Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol
Author: Locke, William John, 1863-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's Note: Table of Contents added.


       *       *       *       *       *



 _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_
 IDOLS
 SEPTIMUS
 DERELICTS
 THE USURPER
 WHERE LOVE IS
 THE WHITE DOVE
 SIMON THE JESTER
 A STUDY IN SHADOWS
 A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY
 THE BELOVÈD VAGABOND
 AT THE GATE OF SAMARIA
 THE MORALS OF MARCUS ORDEYNE
 THE DEMAGOGUE AND LADY PHAYRE
 THE GLORY OF CLEMENTINA



 [Illustration: AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FOURTH KISS OUT CAME HER FATHER
                                                           _See page 34_]



 THE
 JOYOUS ADVENTURES
 OF ARISTIDE PUJOL

 BY
 WILLIAM J. LOCKE


 ILLUSTRATIONS BY
 ALEC BALL


 NEW YORK
 JOHN LANE COMPANY
 MCMXII


       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


     I  THE ADVENTURE OF THE FAIR PATRONNE
    II  THE ADVENTURE OF THE ARLÉSIENNE
   III  THE ADVENTURE OF THE KIND MR. SMITH
    IV  THE ADVENTURE OF THE FOUNDLING
     V  THE ADVENTURE OF THE PIG'S HEAD
    VI  THE ADVENTURE OF FLEURETTE
   VII  THE ADVENTURE OF THE MIRACLE
  VIII  THE ADVENTURE OF THE FICKLE GODDESS
    IX  THE ADVENTURE OF A SAINT MARTIN'S SUMMER


       *       *       *       *       *



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                     FACING
                                                      PAGE

 At the Beginning of the Fourth Kiss Out Came Her
   Father                           _Frontispiece_

 I Had Knocked Him Down on Purpose. He Was
   Crippled for Life                                     14

 Anything Less Congruous as the Bride-Elect of the
   Debonair Aristide Pujol it Was Impossible to
   Imagine                                               22

 Had Straightway Poured His Grievances into a
   Feminine Ear                                          32

 I Found Both Tyres Had Been Punctured in a Hundred
   Places                                                40

 "Madame," said Aristide, "You Are Adorable, and
   I Love You to Distraction"                            50

 "The Villain Was a Traveller in Buttons--Buttons!"      60

 He Burst into Shrieks of Laughter                       64

 "And You!" shouted Bocardon, Falling on Aristide;
   "I Must Embrace You Also"                             68

 Standing on the Arrival Platform of Euston Station      78

 "Ah! the Pictures," cried Aristide, with a Wide
   Sweep of His Arms                                     88

 "I'll Take Five Hundred Pounds," said He, "to
   Stay in"                                              96

 Between the Folds of a Blanket Peeped the Face of
   a Sleeping Child                                     110

 He Demonstrated the Proper Application of the Cure     120

 It is a Fearsome Thing for a Man to be Left Alone in
   the Dead of Night with a Young Baby                  124

 One of the Little Girls in Pigtails Was Holding
   Him, While Miss Anne Administered the Feeding-Bottle 134

 He Must Have Dealt Out Paralyzing Information          180

 Fleurette Danced with Aristide, as Light as an
   Autumn Leaf Tossed by the Wind                       188

 Aristide Practised His Many Queer Accomplishments      200

 He Read It, and Blinked in Amazement                   208

 He Might as Well Have Pointed Out the Marvels
   of Kubla Khan's Pleasure-Dome to a Couple of
   Guinea-Pigs                                          216

 "I've Caught You! At Last, After Twenty Years,
   I've Caught You"                                     234

 There He Saw a Sight Which for a Moment Paralyzed Him  238

 Mr. Ducksmith Seized Him by the Lapels of His Coat     242


       *       *       *       *       *



 THE
 JOYOUS ADVENTURES
 OF
 ARISTIDE PUJOL


       *       *       *       *       *



#The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol#

I

THE ADVENTURE OF THE FAIR PATRONNE


In narrating these few episodes in the undulatory, not to say
switchback, career of my friend Aristide Pujol, I can pretend to no
chronological sequence. Some occurred before he (almost literally)
crossed my path for the first time, some afterwards. They have been
related to me haphazard at odd times, together with a hundred other
incidents, just as a chance tag of association recalled them to his
swift and picturesque memory. He would, indeed, make a show of fixing
dates by reference to his temporary profession; but so Protean seem to
have been his changes of fortune in their number and rapidity that I
could never keep count of them or their order. Nor does it matter. The
man's life was as disconnected as a pack of cards.

My first meeting with him happened in this wise.

I had been motoring in a listless, solitary fashion about Languedoc. A
friend who had stolen a few days from anxious business in order to
accompany me from Boulogne through Touraine and Guienne had left me at
Toulouse; another friend whom I had arranged to pick up at Avignon on
his way from Monte Carlo was unexpectedly delayed. I was therefore
condemned to a period of solitude somewhat irksome to a man of a
gregarious temperament. At first, for company's sake, I sat in front
by my chauffeur, McKeogh. But McKeogh, an atheistical Scotch mechanic
with his soul in his cylinders, being as communicative as his own
differential, I soon relapsed into the equal loneliness and greater
comfort of the back.

In this fashion I left Montpellier one morning on my leisurely eastward
journey, deciding to break off from the main road, striking due south,
and visit Aigues-Mortes on the way.

Aigues-Mortes was once a flourishing Mediterranean town. St. Louis and
his Crusaders sailed thence twice for Palestine; Charles V. and Francis
I. met there and filled the place with glittering state. But now its
glory has departed. The sea has receded three or four miles, and left
it high and dry in the middle of bleak salt marshes, useless, dead and
desolate, swept by the howling mistral and scorched by the blazing sun.
The straight white ribbon of road which stretched for miles through the
plain, between dreary vineyards--some under water, the black shoots of
the vines appearing like symmetrical wreckage above the surface--was at
last swallowed up by the grim central gateway of the town, surmounted
by its frowning tower. On each side spread the brown machicolated
battlements that vainly defended the death-stricken place. A soft
northern atmosphere would have invested it in a certain mystery of
romance, but in the clear southern air, the towers and walls standing
sharply defined against the blue, wind-swept sky, it looked naked and
pitiful, like a poor ghost caught in the daylight.

At some distance from the gate appeared the usual notice as to
speed-limit. McKeogh, most scrupulous of drivers, obeyed. As there was a
knot of idlers underneath and beyond the gate he slowed down to a crawl,
sounding a patient and monotonous horn. We advanced; the peasant folk
cleared the way sullenly and suspiciously. Then, deliberately, an
elderly man started to cross the road, and on the sound of the horn
stood stock still, with resentful defiance on his weather-beaten face.
McKeogh jammed on the brakes. The car halted. But the infinitesimal
fraction of a second before it came to a dead stop the wing over the
near front wheel touched the elderly person and down he went on the
ground. I leaped from the car, to be instantly surrounded by an
infuriated crowd, which seemed to gather from all the quarters of
the broad, decaying square. The elderly man, helped to his feet by
sympathetic hands, shook his knotted fists in my face. He was a dour and
ugly peasant, of splendid physique, as hard and discoloured as the walls
of Aigues-Mortes; his cunning eyes were as clear as a boy's, his lined,
clean-shaven face as rigid as a gargoyle; and the back of his neck,
above the low collar of his jersey, showed itself seamed into glazed
irregular lozenges, like the hide of a crocodile. He cursed me and my
kind healthily in very bad French and apostrophized his friends in
Provençal, who in Provençal and bad French made responsive clamour. I
had knocked him down on purpose. He was crippled for life. Who was I to
go tearing through peaceful towns with my execrated locomotive and
massacring innocent people? I tried to explain that the fault was his,
and that, after all, to judge by the strength of his lungs, no great
damage had been inflicted. But no. They would not let it go like that.
There were the gendarmes--I looked across the square and saw two
gendarmes striding portentously towards the scene--they would see
justice done. The law was there to protect poor folk. For a certainty I
would not get off easily.

 [Illustration: I HAD KNOCKED HIM DOWN ON PURPOSE. HE WAS CRIPPLED
                FOR LIFE]

I knew what would happen. The gendarmes would submit McKeogh and myself
to a _procès-verbal_. They would impound the car. I should have to go
to the Mairie and make endless depositions. I should have to wait,
Heaven knows how long, before I could appear before the _juge de paix_.
I should have to find a solicitor to represent me. In the end I should
be fined for furious driving--at the rate, when the accident happened,
of a mile an hour--and probably have to pay a heavy compensation to the
wilful and uninjured victim of McKeogh's impeccable driving. And all the
time, while waiting for injustice to take its course, I should be the
guest of a hostile population. I grew angry. The crowd grew angrier. The
gendarmes approached with an air of majesty and fate. But just before
they could be acquainted with the brutal facts of the disaster a
singularly bright-eyed man, wearing a hard felt hat and a blue serge
suit, flashed like a meteor into the midst of the throng, glanced with
an amazing swiftness at me, the car, the crowd, the gendarmes and the
victim, ran his hands up and down the person of the last mentioned, and
then, with a frenzied action of a figure in a bad cinematograph rather
than that of a human being, subjected the inhabitants to an infuriated
philippic in Provençal, of which I could not understand one word. The
crowd, with here and there a murmur of remonstrance, listened to him in
silence. When he had finished they hung their heads, the gendarmes
shrugged their majestic and fateful shoulders and lit cigarettes, and
the gargoyle-visaged ancient with the neck of crocodile hide turned
grumbling away. I have never witnessed anything so magical as the effect
produced by this electric personage. Even McKeogh, who during the
previous clamour had sat stiff behind his wheel, keeping expressionless
eyes fixed on the cap of the radiator, turned his head two degrees of a
circle and glanced at his surroundings.

The instant peace was established our rescuer darted up to me with the
directness of a dragon-fly and shook me warmly by the hand. As he had
done me a service, I responded with a grateful smile; besides, his
aspect was peculiarly prepossessing. I guessed him to be about
five-and-thirty. He had a clear olive complexion, black moustache and
short silky vandyke beard, and the most fascinating, the most humorous,
the most mocking, the most astonishingly bright eyes I have ever seen in
my life. I murmured a few expressions of thanks, while he prolonged the
handshake with the fervour of a long-lost friend.

"It's all right, my dear sir. Don't worry any more," he said in
excellent English, but with a French accent curiously tinged with
Cockney. "The old gentleman's as sound as a bell--not a bruise on his
body." He pushed me gently to the step of the car. "Get in and let me
guide you to the only place where you can eat in this accursed town."

Before I could recover from my surprise, he was by my side in the car
shouting directions to McKeogh.

"Ah! These people!" he cried, shaking his hands with outspread fingers
in front of him. "They have no manners, no decency, no self-respect.
It's a regular trade. They go and get knocked down by automobiles on
purpose, so that they can claim indemnity. They breed dogs especially
and train them to commit suicide under the wheels so that they can get
compensation. There's one now--_ah, sacrée bête!_" He leaned over the
side of the car and exchanged violent objurgation with the dog. "But
never mind. So long as I am here you can run over anything you like with
impunity."

"I'm very much obliged to you," said I. "You've saved me from a deal of
foolish unpleasantness. From the way you handled the old gentleman I
should guess you to be a doctor."

"That's one of the few things I've never been," he replied. "No; I'm not
a doctor. One of these days I'll tell you all about myself." He spoke
as if our sudden acquaintance would ripen into life-long friendship.
"There's the hotel--the Hôtel Saint-Louis," he pointed to the sign a
little way up the narrow, old-world, cobble-paved street we were
entering. "Leave it to me; I'll see that they treat you properly."

The car drew up at the doorway. My electric friend leaped out and met
the emerging landlady.

"_Bonjour, madame._ I've brought you one of my very good friends,
an English gentleman of the most high importance. He will have
_déjeuner--tout ce qu'il y a de mieux_. None of your cabbage-soup and
eels and _andouilles_, but a good omelette, some fresh fish, and a bit
of very tender meat. Will that suit you?" he asked, turning to me.

"Excellently," said I, smiling. "And since you've ordered me so charming
a _déjeuner_, perhaps you'll do me the honour of helping me to eat it?"

"With the very greatest pleasure," said he, without a second's
hesitation.

We entered the small, stuffy dining-room, where a dingy waiter, with a
dingier smile, showed us to a small table by the window. At the long
table in the middle of the room sat the half-dozen frequenters of the
house, their napkins tucked under their chins, eating in gloomy silence
a dreary meal of the kind my new friend had deprecated.

"What shall we drink?" I asked, regarding with some disfavour the thin
red and white wines in the decanters.

"Anything," said he, "but this _piquette du pays_. It tastes like a
mixture of sea-water and vinegar. It produces the look of patient
suffering that you see on those gentlemen's faces. You, who are not
used to it, had better not venture. It would excoriate your throat. It
would dislocate your pancreas. It would play the very devil with you.
Adolphe"--he beckoned the waiter--"there's a little white wine of the
Côtes du Rhone----" He glanced at me.

"I'm in your hands," said I.

As far as eating and drinking went I could not have been in better. Nor
could anyone desire a more entertaining chance companion of travel. That
he had thrust himself upon me in the most brazen manner and taken
complete possession of me there could be no doubt. But it had all been
done in the most irresistibly charming manner in the world. One entirely
forgot the impudence of the fellow. I have since discovered that he did
not lay himself out to be agreeable. The flow of talk and anecdote, the
bright laughter that lit up a little joke, making it appear a very
brilliant joke indeed, were all spontaneous. He was a man, too, of some
cultivation. He knew France thoroughly, England pretty well; he had a
discriminating taste in architecture, and waxed poetical over the
beauties of Nature.

"It strikes me as odd," said I at last, somewhat ironically, "that so
vital a person as yourself should find scope for your energies in this
dead-and-alive place."

He threw up his hands. "I live here? I crumble and decay in
Aigues-Mortes? For whom do you take me?"

I replied that, not having the pleasure of knowing his name and quality,
I could only take him for an enigma.

He selected a card from his letter-case and handed it to me across the
table. It bore the legend:--

             ARISTIDE PUJOL,
                 Agent.
    213 bis, Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris.

"That address will always find me," he said.

Civility bade me give him my card, which he put carefully in his
letter-case.

"I owe my success in life," said he, "to the fact that I have never lost
an opportunity or a visiting-card."

"Where did you learn your perfect English?" I asked.

"First," said he, "among English tourists at Marseilles. Then in
England. I was Professor of French at an academy for young ladies."

"I hope you were a success?" said I.

He regarded me drolly.

"Yes--and no," said he.

The meal over, we left the hotel.

"Now," said he, "you would like to visit the towers on the ramparts. I
would dearly love to accompany you, but I have business in the town. I
will take you, however, to the _gardien_ and put you in his charge."

He raced me to the gate by which I had entered. The _gardien des
remparts_ issued from his lodge at Aristide Pujol's summons and listened
respectfully to his exhortation in Provençal. Then he went for his keys.

"I'll not say good-bye," Aristide Pujol declared, amiably. "I'll get
through my business long before you've done your sight-seeing, and
you'll find me waiting for you near the hotel. _Au revoir, cher ami._"

He smiled, lifted his hat, waved his hand in a friendly way, and darted
off across the square. The old _gardien_ came out with the keys and took
me off to the Tour de Constance, where Protestants were imprisoned
pell-mell after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; thence to the
Tour des Bourguignons, where I forget how many hundred Burgundians were
massacred and pickled in salt; and, after these cheery exhibitions,
invited me to walk round the ramparts and inspect the remaining eighteen
towers of the enceinte. As the mistral, however, had sprung up and was
shuddering across the high walls, I declined, and, having paid him his
fee, descended to the comparative shelter of the earth.

There I found Aristide Pujol awaiting me at the corner of the narrow
street in which the hotel was situated. He was wearing--like most of
the young bloods of Provence in winter-time--a short, shaggy, yet natty
goat-skin coat, ornamented with enormous bone buttons, and a little cane
valise stood near by on the kerb of the square.

He was not alone. Walking arm in arm with him was a stout, elderly woman
of swarthy complexion and forbidding aspect. She was attired in a
peasant's or small shopkeeper's rusty Sunday black and an old-fashioned
black bonnet prodigiously adorned with black plumes and black roses.
Beneath this bonnet her hair was tightly drawn up from her forehead;
heavy eyebrows overhung a pair of small, crafty eyes, and a tuft of hair
grew on the corner of a prognathous jaw. She might have been about
seven-and-forty.

Aristide Pujol, unlinking himself from this unattractive female,
advanced and saluted me with considerable deference.

"Monseigneur----" said he.

As I am neither a duke nor an archbishop, but a humble member of the
lower automobiling classes, the high-flown title startled me.

"Monseigneur, will you permit me," said he, in French, "to present to
you Mme. Gougasse? Madame is the _patronne_ of the Café de l'Univers, at
Carcassonne, which doubtless you have frequented, and she is going to do
me the honour of marrying me to-morrow."

 [Illustration: ANYTHING LESS CONGRUOUS AS THE BRIDE-ELECT OF THE
                DEBONAIR ARISTIDE PUJOL IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE]

The unexpectedness of the announcement took my breath away.

"Good heavens!" said I, in a whisper.

Anyone less congruous as the bride-elect of the debonair Aristide Pujol
it was impossible to imagine. However, it was none of my business. I
raised my hat politely to the lady.

"Madame, I offer you my sincere felicitations. As an entertaining
husband I am sure you will find M. Aristide Pujol without a rival."

"_Je vous remercie, monseigneur_," she replied, in what was obviously
her best company manner. "And if ever you will deign to come again to
the Café de l'Univers at Carcassonne we will esteem it a great honour."

"And so you're going to get married to-morrow?" I remarked, by way of
saying something. To congratulate Aristide Pujol on his choice lay
beyond my power of hypocrisy.

"To-morrow," said he, "my dear Amélie will make me the happiest of men."

"We start for Carcassonne by the three-thirty train," said Mme.
Gougasse, pulling a great silver watch from some fold of her person.

"Then there is time," said I, pointing to a little weather-beaten café
in the square, "to drink a glass to your happiness."

"_Bien volontiers_," said the lady.

"_Pardon, chère amie_," Aristide interposed, quickly. "Unless
monseigneur and I start at once for Montpellier, I shall not have time
to transact my little affairs before your train arrives there."

Parenthetically, I must remark that all trains going from Aigues-Mortes
to Carcassonne must stop at Montpellier.

"That's true," she agreed, in a hesitating manner. "But----"

"But, idol of my heart, though I am overcome with grief at the idea of
leaving you for two little hours, it is a question of four thousand
francs. Four thousand francs are not picked up every day in the street.
It's a lot of money."

Mme. Gougasse's little eyes glittered.

"_Bien sûr._ And it's quite settled?"

"Absolutely."

"And it will be all for me?"

"Half," said Aristide.

"You promised all to me for the redecoration of the ceiling of the
café."

"Three thousand will be sufficient, dear angel. What? I know these
contractors and decorators. The more you pay them, the more abominable
will they make the ceiling. Leave it to me. I, Aristide, will guarantee
you a ceiling like that of the Sistine Chapel for two thousand francs."

She smiled and bridled, so as to appear perfectly well-bred in my
presence. The act of smiling caused the tuft of hair on her jaw to
twitch horribly. A cold shiver ran down my back.

"Don't you think, monseigneur," she asked, archly, "that M. Pujol should
give me the four thousand francs as a wedding-present?"

"Most certainly," said I, in my heartiest voice, entirely mystified by
the conversation.

"Well, I yield," said Aristide. "Ah, women, women! They hold up their
little rosy finger, and the bravest of men has to lie down with his chin
on his paws like a good old watch-dog. You agree, then, monseigneur, to
my giving the whole of the four thousand francs to Amélie?"

"More than that," said I, convinced that the swarthy lady of the
prognathous jaw was bound to have her own way in the end where money was
concerned, and yet for the life of me not seeing how I had anything to
do with the disposal of Aristide Pujol's property--"More than that,"
said I; "I command you to do it."

"_C'est bien gentil de votre part_," said madame.

"And now the café," I suggested, with chattering teeth. We had been
standing all the time at the corner of the square, while the mistral
whistled down the narrow street. The dust was driven stingingly into our
faces, and the women of the place who passed us by held their black
scarves over their mouths.

"Alas, monseigneur," said Mme. Gougasse, "Aristide is right. You must
start now for Montpellier in the automobile. I will go by the train for
Carcassonne at three-thirty. It is the only train from Aigues-Mortes.
Aristide transacts his business and joins me in the train at
Montpellier. You have not much time to spare."

I was bewildered. I turned to Aristide Pujol, who stood, hands on hips,
regarding his prospective bride and myself with humorous benevolence.

"My good friend," said I in English, "I've not the remotest idea of what
the two of you are talking about; but I gather you have arranged that I
should motor you to Montpellier. Now, I'm not going to Montpellier. I've
just come from there, as I told you at _déjeuner_. I'm going in the
opposite direction."

He took me familiarly by the arm, and, with a "_Pardon, chère amie_," to
the lady, led me a few paces aside.

"I beseech you," he whispered; "it's a matter of four thousand francs, a
hundred and sixty pounds, eight hundred dollars, a new ceiling for the
Café de l'Univers, the dream of a woman's life, and the happiest omen
for my wedded felicity. The fair goddess Hymen invites you with uplifted
torch. You can't refuse."

He hypnotized me with his bright eyes, overpowered my will by his
winning personality. He seemed to force me to desire his companionship.
I weakened. After all, I reflected, I was at a loose end, and where I
went did not matter to anybody. Aristide Pujol had also done me a
considerable service, for which I felt grateful. I yielded with good
grace.

He darted back to Mme. Gougasse, alive with gaiety.

"_Chère amie_, if you were to press monseigneur, I'm sure he would come
to Carcassonne and dance at our wedding."

"Alas! That," said I, hastily, "is out of the question. But," I added,
amused by a humorous idea, "why should two lovers separate even for a
few hours? Why should not madame accompany us to Montpellier? There is
room in my auto for three, and it would give me the opportunity of
making madame's better acquaintance."

"There, Amélie!" cried Aristide. "What do you say?"

"Truly, it is too much honour," murmured Mme. Gougasse, evidently
tempted.

"There's your luggage, however," said Aristide. "You would bring that
great trunk, for which there is no place in the automobile of
monseigneur."

"That's true--my luggage."

"Send it on by train, _chère amie_."

"When will it arrive at Carcassonne?"

"Not to-morrow," said Pujol, "but perhaps next week or the week after.
Perhaps it may never come at all. One is never certain with these
railway companies. But what does that matter?"

"What do you say?" cried the lady, sharply.

"It may arrive or it may not arrive; but you are rich enough, _chère
amie_, not to think of a few camisoles and bits of jewellery."

"And my lace and my silk dress that I have brought to show your parents.
_Merci!_" she retorted, with a dangerous spark in her little eyes. "You
think one is made of money, eh? You will soon find yourself mistaken, my
friend. I would give you to understand----". She checked herself
suddenly. "Monseigneur"--she turned to me with a resumption of the
gracious manner of her bottle-decked counter at the Café de
l'Univers--"you are too amiable. I appreciate your offer infinitely; but
I am not going to entrust my luggage to the kind care of the railway
company. _Merci, non._ They are robbers and thieves. Even if it did
arrive, half the things would be stolen. Oh, I know them."

She shook the head of an experienced and self-reliant woman. No doubt,
distrustful of banks as of railway companies, she kept her money hidden
in her bedroom. I pitied my poor young friend; he would need all his
gaiety to enliven the domestic side of the Café de l'Univers.

The lady having declined my invitation, I expressed my regrets; and
Aristide, more emotional, voiced his sense of heart-rent desolation,
and in a resigned tone informed me that it was time to start. I left the
lovers and went to the hotel, where I paid the bill, summoned McKeogh,
and lit a companionable pipe.

The car backed down the narrow street into the square and took up its
position. We entered. McKeogh took charge of Aristide's valise, tucked
us up in the rug, and settled himself in his seat. The car started and
we drove off, Aristide gallantly brandishing his hat and Mme. Gougasse
waving her lily hand, which happened to be hidden in an ill-fitting
black glove.

"To Montpellier, as fast as you can!" he shouted at the top of his lungs
to McKeogh. Then he sighed as he threw himself luxuriously back. "Ah,
this is better than a train. Amélie doesn't know what a mistake she has
made!"

The elderly victim of my furious entry was lounging, in spite of the
mistral, by the grim machicolated gateway. Instead of scowling at me he
raised his hat respectfully as we passed. I touched my cap, but Aristide
returned the salute with the grave politeness of royalty.

"This is a place," said he, "which I would like never to behold again."

In a few moments we were whirling along the straight, white road between
the interminable black vineyards, and past the dilapidated homesteads
of the vine-folk and wayside cafés that are scattered about this
unjoyous corner of France.

"Well," said he, suddenly, "what do you think of my _fiancée_?"

Politeness and good taste forbade expression of my real opinion. I
murmured platitudes to the effect that she seemed to be a most sensible
woman, with a head for business.

"She's not what we in French call _jolie, jolie_; but what of that?
What's the good of marrying a pretty face for other men to make love to?
And, as you English say, there's none of your confounded sentiment about
her. But she has the most flourishing café in Carcassonne; and, when the
ceiling is newly decorated, provided she doesn't insist on too much gold
leaf and too many naked babies on clouds--it's astonishing how women
love naked babies on clouds--it will be the snuggest place in the world.
May I ask for one of your excellent cigarettes?"

I handed him the case from the pocket of the car.

"It was there that I made her acquaintance," he resumed, after having
lit the cigarette from my pipe. "We met, we talked, we fixed it up. She
is not the woman to go by four roads to a thing. She did me the honour
of going straight for me. Ah, but what a wonderful woman! She rules that
café like a kingdom; a Semiramis, a Queen Elizabeth, a Catherine de'
Medici. She sits enthroned behind the counter all day long and takes the
money and counts the saucers and smiles on rich clients, and if a waiter
in a far corner gives a bit of sugar to a dog she spots it, and the
waiter has a deuce of a time. That woman is worth her weight in
thousand-franc notes. She goes to bed every night at one, and gets up in
the morning at five. And virtuous! Didn't Solomon say that a virtuous
woman was more precious than rubies? That's the kind of wife the wise
man chooses when he gives up the giddy ways of youth. Ah, my dear sir,
over and over again these last two or three days my dear old parents--I
have been on a visit to them in Aigues-Mortes--have commended my wisdom.
Amélie, who is devoted to me, left her café in Carcassonne to make their
acquaintance and receive their blessing before our marriage, also to
show them the lace on her _dessous_ and her new silk dress. They are too
old to take the long journey to Carcassonne. 'My son,' they said, 'you
are making a marriage after our own hearts. We are proud of you. Now we
can die perfectly content.' I was wrong, perhaps, in saying that Amélie
has no sentiment," he continued, after a short pause. "She adores me. It
is evident. She will not allow me out of her sight. Ah, my dear friend,
you don't know what a happy man I am."

For a brilliant young man of five-and-thirty, who was about to marry a
horrible Megæra ten or twelve years his senior, he looked unhealthily
happy. There was no doubt that his handsome roguery had caught the
woman's fancy. She was at the dangerous age, when even the most
ferro-concrete-natured of women are apt to run riot. She was
comprehensible, and pardonable. But the man baffled me. He was obviously
marrying her for her money; but how in the name of Diogenes and all the
cynics could he manage to look so confoundedly joyful about it?

The mistral blew bitterly. I snuggled beneath the rug and hunched up my
shoulders so as to get my ears protected by my coat-collar. Aristide,
sufficiently protected by his goat's hide, talked like a shepherd on a
May morning. Why he took for granted my interest in his unromantic, not
to say sordid, courtship I knew not; but he gave me the whole history of
it from its modest beginnings to its now penultimate stage. From what I
could make out--for the mistral whirled many of his words away over
unheeding Provence--he had entered the Café de l'Univers one evening, a
human derelict battered by buffeting waves of Fortune, and, finding a
seat immediately beneath Mme. Gougasse's _comptoir_, had straightway
poured his grievances into a feminine ear and, figuratively speaking,
rested his weary heart upon a feminine bosom. And his buffetings and
grievances and wearinesses? Whence came they? I asked the question
point-blank.

 [Illustration: HAD STRAIGHTWAY POURED HIS GRIEVANCES INTO A
                FEMININE EAR]

"Ah, my dear friend," he answered, kissing his gloved finger-tips, "she
was adorable!"

"Who?" I asked, taken aback. "Mme. Gougasse?"

"_Mon Dieu_, no!" he replied. "Not Mme. Gougasse. Amélie is solid, she
is virtuous, she is jealous, she is capacious; but I should not call her
adorable. No; the adorable one was twenty--delicious and English; a
peach-blossom, a zephyr, a summer night's dream, and the most provoking
little witch you ever saw in your life. Her father and herself and six
of her compatriots were touring through France. They had circular
tickets. So had I. In fact, I was a miniature Thomas Cook and Son to the
party. I provided them with the discomforts of travel and supplied
erroneous information. _Que voulez-vous?_ If people ask you for the
history of a pair of Louis XV. corsets, in a museum glass case, it's
much better to stimulate their imagination by saying that they were worn
by Joan of Arc at the Battle of Agincourt than to dull their minds by
your ignorance. _Eh bien_, we go through the châteaux of the Loire,
through Poitiers and Angoulême, and we come to Carcassonne. You know
Carcassonne? The great grim _cité_, with its battlements and bastions
and barbicans and fifty towers on the hill looking over the rubbishy
modern town? We were there. The rest of the party were buying picture
postcards of the _gardien_ at the foot of the Tour de l'Inquisition. The
man who invented picture postcards ought to have his statue on the top
of the Eiffel Tower. The millions of headaches he has saved! People go
to places now not to exhaust themselves by seeing them, but to buy
picture postcards of them. The rest of the party, as I said, were deep
in picture postcards. Mademoiselle and I promenaded outside. We often
promenaded outside when the others were buying picture postcards," he
remarked, with an extra twinkle in his bright eyes. "And the result? Was
it my fault? We leaned over the parapet. The wind blew a confounded
_mèche_--what do you call it----?"

"Strand?"

"Yes--strand of her hair across her face. She let it blow and laughed
and did not move. Didn't I say she was a little witch? If there's a
Provençal ever born who would not have kissed a girl under such
provocation I should like to have his mummy. I kissed her. She kept on
laughing. I kissed her again. I kissed her four times. At the beginning
of the fourth kiss out came her father from the postcard shop. He waited
till the end of it and then announced himself. He announced himself in
such ungentlemanly terms that I was forced to let the whole party,
including the adorable little witch, go on to Pau by themselves, while
I betook my broken heart to the Café de l'Univers."

"And there you found consolation?"

"I told my sad tale. Amélie listened and called the manager to take
charge of the _comptoir_, and poured herself out a glass of Frontignan.
Amélie always drinks Frontignan when her heart is touched. I came the
next day and the next. It was pouring with rain day and night--and
Carcassonne in rain is like Hades with its furnaces put out by human
tears--and the Café de l'Univers like a little warm corner of Paradise
stuck in the midst of it."

"And so that's how it happened?"

"That's how it happened. _Ma foi!_ When a lady asks a _galant homme_ to
marry her, what is he to do? Besides, did I not say that the Café de
l'Univers was the most prosperous one in Carcassonne? I'm afraid you
English, my dear friend, have such sentimental ideas about marriage.
Now, we in France----_Attendez, attendez!_" He suddenly broke off his
story, lurched forward, and gripped the back of the front seat.

"To the right, man, to the right!" he cried excitedly to McKeogh.

We had reached the point where the straight road from Aigues-Mortes
branches into a fork, one road going to Montpellier, the other to Nîmes.
Montpellier being to the west, McKeogh had naturally taken the left
fork.

"To the right!" shouted Aristide.

McKeogh pulled up and turned his head with a look of protesting inquiry.
I intervened with a laugh.

"You're wrong in your geography, M. Pujol. Besides, there is the
signpost staring you in the face. This is the way to Montpellier."

"But, my dear, heaven-sent friend, I no more want to go to Montpellier
than you do!" he cried. "Montpellier is the last place on earth I desire
to visit. You want to go to Nîmes, and so do I. To the right,
chauffeur."

"What shall I do, sir?" asked McKeogh.

I was utterly bewildered. I turned to the goat-skin-clad,
pointed-bearded, bright-eyed Aristide, who, sitting bolt upright in the
car, with his hands stretched out, looked like a parody of the god Pan
in a hard felt hat.

"You don't want to go to Montpellier?" I asked, stupidly.

"No--ten thousand times no; not for a king's ransom."

"But your four thousand francs--your meeting Mme. Gougasse's train--your
getting on to Carcassonne?"

"If I could put twenty million continents between myself and Carcassonne
I'd do it," he explained, with frantic gestures. "Don't you understand?
The good Lord who is always on my side sent you especially to deliver
me out of the hands of that unspeakable Xantippe. There are no four
thousand francs. I'm not going to meet her train at Montpellier, and if
she marries anyone to-morrow at Carcassonne it will not be Aristide
Pujol."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"We'll go to Nîmes."

"Very good, sir," said McKeogh.

"And now," said I, as soon as we had started on the right-hand road,
"will you have the kindness to explain?"

"There's nothing to explain," he cried, gleefully. "Here am I delivered.
I am free. I can breathe God's good air again. I'm not going to marry
Yum-Yum, Yum-Yum. I feel ten years younger. Oh, I've had a narrow
escape. But that's the way with me. I always fall on my feet. Didn't I
tell you I've never lost an opportunity? The moment I saw an Englishman
in difficulties, I realized my opportunity of being delivered out of the
House of Bondage. I took it, and here I am! For two days I had been
racking my brains for a means of getting out of Aigues-Mortes, when
suddenly you--a _Deus ex machina_--a veritable god out of the
machine--come to my aid. Don't say there isn't a Providence watching
over me."

I suggested that his mode of escape seemed somewhat elaborate and
fantastic. Why couldn't he have slipped quietly round to the railway
station and taken a ticket to any haven of refuge he might have
fancied?

"For the simple reason," said he, with a gay laugh, "that I haven't a
single penny piece in the world."

He looked so prosperous and untroubled that I stared incredulously.

"Not one tiny bronze sou," said he.

"You seem to take it pretty philosophically," said I.

"_Les gueux, les gueux, sont des gens heureux_," he quoted.

"You're the first person who has made me believe in the happiness of
beggars."

"In time I shall make you believe in lots of things," he retorted. "No.
I hadn't one sou to buy a ticket, and Amélie never left me. I spent my
last franc on the journey from Carcassonne to Aigues-Mortes. Amélie
insisted on accompanying me. She was taking no chances. Her eyes never
left me from the time we started. When I ran to your assistance she was
watching me from a house on the other side of the _place_. She came to
the hotel while we were lunching. I thought I would slip away unnoticed
and join you after you had made the _tour des remparts_. But no. I must
present her to my English friend. And then--_voyons_--didn't I tell you
I never lost a visiting-card? Look at this?"

He dived into his pocket, produced the letter-case, and extracted a
card.

"_Voilà._"

I read: "The Duke of Wiltshire."

"But, good heavens, man," I cried, "that's not the card I gave you."

"I know it isn't," said he; "but it's the one I showed to Amélie."

"How on earth," I asked, "did you come by the Duke of Wiltshire's
visiting-card?"

He looked at me roguishly.

"I am--what do you call it?--a--a 'snapper up of unconsidered trifles.'
You see I know my Shakespeare. I read 'The Winter's Tale' with some
French pupils to whom I was teaching English. I love Autolycus. _C'est
un peu moi, hein?_ Anyhow, I showed the Duke's card to Amélie."

I began to understand. "That was why you called me 'monseigneur'?"

"Naturally. And I told her that you were my English patron, and would
give me four thousand francs as a wedding present if I accompanied you
to your agent's at Montpellier, where you could draw the money. Ah! But
she was suspicious! Yesterday I borrowed a bicycle. A friend left it in
the courtyard. I thought, 'I will creep out at dead of night, when
everyone's asleep, and once on my _petite bicyclette, bonsoir la
compagnie_.' But, would you believe it? When I had dressed and crept
down, and tried to mount the bicycle, I found both tyres had been
punctured in a hundred places with the point of a pair of scissors. What
do you think of that, eh? Ah, _là, là!_ it has been a narrow escape.
When you invited her to accompany us to Montpellier my heart was in my
mouth."

"It would have served you right," I said, "if she had accepted."

He laughed as though, instead of not having a penny, he had not a care
in the world. Accustomed to the geometrical conduct of my well-fed
fellow-Britons, who map out their lives by rule and line, I had no
measure whereby to gauge this amazing and inconsequential person. In one
way he had acted abominably. To leave an affianced bride in the lurch in
this heartless manner was a most ungentlemanly proceeding. On the other
hand, an unscrupulous adventurer would have married the woman for her
money and chanced the consequences. In the tussle between Perseus and
the Gorgon the odds are all in favour of Perseus. Mercury and Minerva,
the most sharp-witted of the gods, are helping him all the time--to say
nothing of the fact that Perseus starts out by being a notoriously
handsome fellow. So a handsome rogue can generally wheedle an elderly,
ugly wife into opening her money-bags, and, if successful, leads the
enviable life of a fighting-cock. It was very much to his credit that
this kind of life was not to the liking of Aristide Pujol.

 [Illustration: "I FOUND BOTH TYRES HAD BEEN PUNCTURED IN A
                HUNDRED PLACES"]

Indeed, speaking from affectionate knowledge of the man, I can declare
that the position in which he, like many a better man, had placed
himself was intolerable. Other men of equal sensitiveness would have
extricated themselves in a more commonplace fashion; but the dramatic
appealed to my rascal, and he has often plumed himself on his calculated
_coup de théâtre_ at the fork of the roads. He was delighted with it.
Even now I sometimes think that Aristide Pujol will never grow up.

"There's one thing I don't understand," said I, "and that is your
astonishing influence over the populace at Aigues-Mortes. You came upon
them like a firework--a devil-among-the-tailors--and everybody,
gendarmes and victim included, became as tame as sheep. How was it?"

He laughed. "I said you were my very old and dear friend and patron, a
great English duke."

"I don't quite see how that explanation satisfied the pig-headed old
gentleman whom I knocked down."

"Oh, that," said Aristide Pujol, with a look of indescribable
drollery--"that was my old father."



II

THE ADVENTURE OF THE ARLÉSIENNE


Aristide Pujol bade me a sunny farewell at the door of the Hôtel du
Luxembourg at Nîmes, and, valise in hand, darted off, in his impetuous
fashion, across the Place de l'Esplanade. I felt something like a pang
at the sight of his retreating figure, as, on his own confession, he had
not a penny in the world. I wondered what he would do for food and
lodging, to say nothing of tobacco, _apéritifs_, and other such
necessaries of life. The idea of so gay a creature starving was
abhorrent. Yet an invitation to stay as my guest at the hotel until
he saw an opportunity of improving his financial situation he had
courteously declined.

Early next morning I found him awaiting me in the lounge and smoking an
excellent cigar. He explained that so dear a friend as myself ought to
be the first to hear the glad tidings. Last evening, by the grace of
Heaven, he had run across a bare acquaintance, a manufacturer of nougat
at Montélimar; had spent several hours in his company, with the result
that he had convinced him of two things: first, that the dry,
crumbling, shortbread-like nougat of Montélimar was unknown in England,
where the population subsisted on a sickly, glutinous mess whereto the
medical faculty had ascribed the prevalent dyspepsia of the population;
and, secondly, that the one Heaven-certified apostle who could spread
the glorious gospel of Montélimar nougat over the length and breadth of
Great Britain and Ireland was himself, Aristide Pujol. A handsome
salary had been arranged, of which he had already drawn something on
account--_hinc ille Colorado_--and he was to accompany his principal the
next day to Montélimar, _en route_ for the conquest of Britain. In the
meantime he was as free as the winds, and would devote the day to
showing me the wonders of the town.

I congratulated him on his almost fantastic good fortune and gladly
accepted his offer.

"There is one thing I should like to ask you," said I, "and it is this.
Yesterday afternoon you refused my cordially-offered hospitality, and
went away without a sou to bless yourself with. What did you do? I ask
out of curiosity. How does a man set about trying to subsist on nothing
at all?"

"It's very simple," he replied. "Haven't I told you, and haven't you
seen for yourself, that I never lose an opportunity? More than that. It
has been my rule in life either to make friends with the Mammon of
Unrighteousness--he's a muddle-headed ass is Mammon, and you can steer
clear of his unrighteousness if you're sharp enough--or else to cast my
bread upon the waters in the certainty of finding it again after many
days. In the case in question I took the latter course. I cast my bread
a year or two ago upon the waters of the Roman baths, which I will have
the pleasure of showing you this morning, and I found it again last
night at the Hôtel de la Curatterie."

In the course of the day he related to me the following artless history.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aristide Pujol arrived at Nîmes one blazing day in July. He had money in
his pocket and laughter in his soul. He had also deposited his valise at
the Hôtel du Luxembourg, which, as all the world knows, is the most
luxurious hotel in the town. Joyousness of heart impelled him to a
course of action which the good Nîmois regard as maniacal in the
sweltering July heat--he walked about the baking streets for his own
good pleasure.

Aristide Pujol was floating a company, a process which afforded him as
much delirious joy as the floating, for the first time, of a toy yacht
affords a child. It was a company to build an hotel in Perpignan, where
the recent demolition of the fortifications erected by the Emperor
Charles V. had set free a vast expanse of valuable building ground on
the other side of the little river on which the old town is situated.
The best hotel in Perpignan being one to get away from as soon as
possible, owing to restriction of site, Aristide conceived the idea of
building a spacious and palatial hostelry in the new part of the town,
which should allure all the motorists and tourists of the globe to that
Pyrenean Paradise. By sheer audacity he had contrived to interest an
eminent Paris architect in his project. Now the man who listened to
Aristide Pujol was lost. With the glittering eye of the Ancient Mariner
he combined the winning charm of a woman. For salvation, you either had
to refuse to see him, as all the architects to the end of the R's in the
alphabetical list had done, or put wax, Ulysses-like, in your ears, a
precaution neglected by the eminent M. Say. M. Say went to Perpignan and
returned in a state of subdued enthusiasm.

A limited company was formed, of which Aristide Pujol, man of vast
experience in affairs, was managing director. But money came in slowly.
A financier was needed. Aristide looked through his collection of
visiting-cards, and therein discovered that of a deaf ironmaster at St.
Étienne whose life he had once saved at a railway station by dragging
him, as he was crossing the line, out of the way of an express train
that came thundering through. Aristide, man of impulse, went straight
to St. Étienne, to work upon the ironmaster's sense of gratitude.
Meanwhile, M. Say, man of more sober outlook, bethought him of a client,
an American millionaire, passing through Paris, who had speculated
considerably in hotels. The millionaire, having confidence in the
eminent M. Say, thought well of the scheme. He was just off to Japan,
but would drop down to the Pyrenees the next day and look at the
Perpignan site before boarding his steamer at Marseilles. If his
inquiries satisfied him, and he could arrange matters with the managing
director, he would not mind putting a million dollars or so into the
concern. You must kindly remember that I do not vouch for the literal
accuracy of everything told me by Aristide Pujol.

The question of the all-important meeting between the millionaire and
the managing director then arose. As Aristide was at St. Étienne it
was arranged that they should meet at a halfway stage on the latter's
journey from Perpignan to Marseilles. The Hôtel du Luxembourg at Nîmes
was the place, and two o'clock on Thursday the time appointed.

Meantime Aristide had found that the deaf ironmaster had died months
ago. This was a disappointment, but fortune compensated him. This part
of his adventure is somewhat vague, but I gathered that he was lured
by a newly made acquaintance into a gambling den, where he won the
prodigious sum of two thousand francs. With this wealth jingling and
crinkling in his pockets he fled the town and arrived at Nîmes on
Wednesday morning, a day before his appointment.

That was why he walked joyously about the blazing streets. The tide had
turned at last. Of the success of his interview with the millionaire he
had not the slightest doubt. He walked about building gorgeous castles
in Perpignan--which, by the way, is not very far from Spain. Besides, as
you shall hear later, he had an account to settle with the town of
Perpignan. At last he reached the Jardin de la Fontaine, the great,
stately garden laid out in complexity of terrace and bridge and
balustraded parapet over the waters of the old Roman baths by the master
hand to which Louis XIV. had entrusted the Garden of Versailles.

Aristide threw himself on a bench and fanned himself with his straw hat.

"_Mon Dieu!_ it's hot!" he remarked to another occupant of the seat.

This was a woman, and, as he saw when she turned her face towards him,
an exceedingly handsome woman. Her white lawn and black silk headdress,
coming to a tiny crown just covering the parting of her full, wavy hair,
proclaimed her of the neighboring town of Arles. She had all the
Arlésienne's Roman beauty--the finely chiselled features, the calm,
straight brows, the ripe lips, the soft oval contour, the clear olive
complexion. She had also lustrous brown eyes; but these were full of
tears. She only turned them on him for a moment; then she resumed her
apparently interrupted occupation of sobbing. Aristide was a
soft-hearted man. He drew nearer.

"Why, you're crying, madame!" said he.

"Evidently," murmured the lady.

"To cry scalding tears in this weather! It's too hot! Now, if you could
only cry iced water there would be something refreshing in it."

"You jest, monsieur," said the lady, drying her eyes.

"By no means," said he. "The sight of so beautiful a woman in distress
is painful."

"Ah!" she sighed. "I am very unhappy."

Aristide drew nearer still.

"Who," said he, "is the wretch that has dared to make you so?"

"My husband," replied the lady, swallowing a sob.

"The scoundrel!" said Aristide.

The lady shrugged her shoulders and looked down at her wedding-ring,
which gleamed on a slim, brown, perfectly kept hand. Aristide prided
himself on being a connoisseur in hands.

"There never was a husband yet," he added, "who appreciated a beautiful
wife. Husbands only deserve harridans."

"That's true," said the Arlésienne, "for when the wife is good-looking
they are jealous."

"Ah, that is the trouble, is it?" said Aristide. "Tell me all about it."

The beautiful Arlésienne again contemplated her slender fingers.

"I don't know you, monsieur."

"But you soon will," said Aristide, in his pleasant voice and with a
laughing, challenging glance in his bright eyes. She met it swiftly and
sidelong.

"Monsieur," she said, "I have been married to my husband for four years,
and have always been faithful to him."

"That's praiseworthy," said Aristide.

"And I love him very much."

"That's unfortunate!" said Aristide.

"Unfortunate?"

"Evidently!" said Aristide.

Their eyes met. They burst out laughing. The lady quickly recovered and
the tears sprang again.

"One can't jest with a heavy heart; and mine is very heavy." She broke
down through self-pity. "Oh, I am ashamed!" she cried.

She turned away from him, burying her face in her hands. Her dress,
cut low, showed the nape of her neck as it rose gracefully from her
shoulders. Two little curls had rebelled against being drawn up with the
rest of her hair. The back of a dainty ear, set close to the head, was
provoking in its pink loveliness. Her attitude, that of a youthful
Niobe, all tears, but at the same time all curves and delicious
contours, would have played the deuce with an anchorite.

Aristide, I would have you remember, was a child of the South. A child
of the North, regarding a bewitching woman, thinks how nice it would be
to make love to her, and wastes his time in wondering how he can do it.
A child of the South neither thinks nor wonders; he makes love straight
away.

"Madame," said Aristide, "you are adorable, and I love you to
distraction."

She started up. "Monsieur, you forget yourself!"

"If I remember anything else in the wide world but you, it would be a
poor compliment. I forget everything. You turn my head, you ravish my
heart, and you put joy into my soul."

He meant it--intensely--for the moment.

"I ought not to listen to you," said the lady, "especially when I am so
unhappy."

"All the more reason to seek consolation," replied Aristide.

"Monsieur," she said, after a short pause, "you look good and loyal. I
will tell you what is the matter. My husband accuses me wrongfully,
although I know that appearances are against me. He only allows me in
the house on sufferance, and is taking measures to procure a divorce."

 [Illustration: "MADAME," SAID ARISTIDE, "YOU ARE ADORABLE, AND I
                LOVE YOU TO DISTRACTION"]

"_A la bonne heure!_" cried Aristide, excitedly casting away his
straw hat, which an unintentional twist of the wrist caused to skim
horizontally and nearly decapitate a small and perspiring soldier who
happened to pass by. "_A la bonne heure!_ Let him divorce you. You are
then free. You can be mine without any further question."

"But I love my husband," she smiled, sadly.

"Bah!" said he, with the scepticism of the lover and the Provençal.
"And, by the way, who is your husband?"

"He is M. Émile Bocardon, proprietor of the Hôtel de la Curatterie."

"And you?"

"I am Mme. Bocardon," she replied, with the faintest touch of roguery.

"But your Christian name? How is it possible for me to think of you as
Mme. Bocardon?"

They argued the question. Eventually she confessed to the name of Zette.

Her confidence not stopping there, she told him how she came by the
name; how she was brought up by her Aunt Léonie at Raphèle, some five
miles from Arles, and many other unexciting particulars of her early
years. Her baptismal name was Louise. Her mother, who died when she was
young, called her Louisette. Aunt Léonie, a very busy woman, with no
time for superfluous syllables, called her Zette.

"Zette!" He cast up his eyes as if she had been canonized and he was
invoking her in rapt worship. "Zette, I adore you!"

Zette was extremely sorry. She, on her side, adored the cruel M.
Bocardon. Incidentally she learned Aristide's name and quality. He was
an _agent d'affaires_, extremely rich--had he not two thousand francs
and an American millionaire in his pocket?

"M. Pujol," she said, "the earth holds but one thing that I desire, the
love and trust of my husband."

"The good Bocardon is becoming tiresome," said Aristide.

Zette's lips parted, as she pointed to a black speck at the iron
entrance gates.

"_Mon Dieu!_ there he is!"

"He has become tiresome," said Aristide.

She rose, displaying to its full advantage her supple and stately
figure. She had a queenly poise of the head. Aristide contemplated her
with the frankest admiration.

"One would say Juno was walking the earth again."

Although Zette had never heard of Juno, and was as miserable and heavy
hearted a woman as dwelt in Nîmes, a flush of pleasure rose to her
cheeks. She too was a child of the South, and female children of the
South love to be admired, no matter how frankly. I have heard of
Daughters of the Snows not quite averse to it. She sighed.

"I must go now, monsieur. He must not find me here with you. I am
suffering enough already from his reproaches. Ah! it is unjust--unjust!"
she cried, clenching her hands, while the tears again started into her
eyes, and the corners of her pretty lips twitched with pain. "Indeed,"
she added, "I know it has been wrong of me to talk to you like this. But
_que voulez-vous?_ It was not my fault. Adieu, monsieur."

At the sight of her standing before him in her woeful beauty, Aristide's
pulses throbbed.

"It is not adieu--it is _au revoir_, Mme. Zette," he cried.

She protested tearfully. It was farewell. Aristide darted to his
rejected hat and clapped it on the back of his head. He joined her and
swore that he would see her again. It was not Aristide Pujol who would
allow her to be rent in pieces by the jaws of that crocodile, M.
Bocardon. Faith, he would defend her to the last drop of his blood. He
would do all manner of gasconading things.

"But what can you do, my poor M. Pujol?" she asked.

"You will see," he replied.

They parted. He watched her until she became a speck and, having joined
the other speck, her husband, passed out of sight. Then he set out
through the burning gardens towards the Hôtel du Luxembourg, at the
other end of the town.

Aristide had fallen in love. He had fallen in love with Provençal fury.
He had done the same thing a hundred times before; but this, he told
himself, was the _coup de foudre_--the thunderbolt. The beautiful
Arlésienne filled his brain and his senses. Nothing else in the wide
world mattered. Nothing else in the wide world occupied his mind. He
sped through the hot streets like a meteor in human form. A stout man,
sipping syrup and water in the cool beneath the awning of the Café de la
Bourse, rose, looked wonderingly after him, and resumed his seat, wiping
a perspiring brow.

A short while afterwards Aristide, valise in hand, presented himself at
the bureau of the Hôtel de la Curatterie. It was a shabby little hotel,
with a shabby little oval sign outside, and was situated in the narrow
street of the same name. Within, it was clean and well kept. On the
right of the little dark entrance-hall was the _salle à manger_, on
the left the bureau and an unenticing hole labelled _salon de
correspondance_. A very narrow passage led to the kitchen, and the rest
of the hall was blocked by the staircase. An enormous man with a simple,
woe-begone fat face and a head of hair like a circular machine-brush was
sitting by the bureau window in his shirt-sleeves. Aristide addressed
him.

"M. Bocardon?"

"At your service, monsieur."

"Can I have a bedroom?"

"Certainly." He waved a hand towards a set of black sample boxes studded
with brass nails and bound with straps that lay in the hall. "The
omnibus has brought your boxes. You are M. Lambert?"

"M. Bocardon," said Aristide, in a lordly way, "I am M. Aristide Pujol,
and not a commercial traveller. I have come to see the beauties of
Nîmes, and have chosen this hotel because I have the honour to be a
distant relation of your wife, Mme. Zette Bocardon, whom I have not seen
for many years. How is she?"

"Her health is very good," replied M. Bocardon, shortly. He rang a bell.

A dilapidated man in a green baize apron emerged from the dining-room
and took Aristide's valise.

"No. 24," said M. Bocardon. Then, swinging his massive form halfway
through the narrow bureau door, he called down the passage, "Euphémie!"

A woman's voice responded, and in a moment the woman herself appeared, a
pallid, haggard, though more youthful, replica of Zette, with the dark
rings of sleeplessness or illness beneath her eyes which looked
furtively at the world.

"Tell your sister," said M. Bocardon, "that a relation of yours has
come to stay in the hotel."

He swung himself back into the bureau and took no further notice of the
guest.

"A relation?" echoed Euphémie, staring at the smiling, lustrous-eyed
Aristide, whose busy brain was wondering how he could mystify this
unwelcome and unexpected sister.

"Why, yes. Aristide, cousin to your good Aunt Léonie at Raphèle. Ah--but
you are too young to remember me."

"I will tell Zette," she said, disappearing down the narrow passage.

Aristide went to the doorway, and stood there looking out into the not
too savoury street. On the opposite side, which was in the shade, the
tenants of the modest little shops sat by their doors or on chairs on
the pavement. There was considerable whispering among them and various
glances were cast at him. Presently footsteps behind caused him to turn.
There was Zette. She had evidently been weeping since they had parted,
for her eyelids were red. She started on beholding him.

"You?"

He laughed and shook her hesitating hands.

"It is I, Aristide. But you have grown! _Pécaïre!_ How you have grown!"
He swung her hands apart and laughed merrily in her bewildered eyes.
"To think that the little Zette in pigtails and short check skirt
should have grown into this beautiful woman! I compliment you on your
wife, M. Bocardon."

M. Bocardon did not reply, but Aristide's swift glance noticed a spasm
of pain shoot across his broad face.

"And the good Aunt Léonie? Is she well? And does she still make her
_matelotes_ of eels? Ah, they were good, those _matelotes_."

"Aunt Léonie died two years ago," said Zette.

"The poor woman! And I who never knew. Tell me about her."

The _salle à manger_ door stood open. He drew her thither by his curious
fascination. They entered, and he shut the door behind them.

"_Voilà!_" said he. "Didn't I tell you I should see you again?"

"_Vous avez un fameux toupet, vous!_" said Zette, half angrily.

He laughed, having been accused of confounded impudence many times
before in the course of his adventurous life.

"If I told my husband he would kill you."

"Precisely. So you're not going to tell him. I adore you. I have come to
protect you. _Foi de Provençal._"

"The only way to protect me is to prove my innocence."

"And then?"

She drew herself up and looked him straight between the eyes.

"I'll recognize that you have a loyal heart, and will be your very good
friend."

"Mme. Zette," cried Aristide, "I will devote my life to your service.
Tell me the particulars of the affair."

"Ask M. Bocardon." She left him, and sailed out of the room and past the
bureau with her proud head in the air.

If Aristide Pujol had the rapturous idea of proving the innocence of
Mme. Zette, triumphing over the fat pig of a husband, and eventually, in
a fantastic fashion, carrying off the insulted and spotless lady to some
bower of delight (the castle in Perpignan--why not?), you must blame,
not him, but Provence, whose sons, if not devout, are frankly pagan.
Sometimes they are both.

M. Bocardon sat in his bureau, pretending to do accounts and tracing
columns of figures with a huge, trembling forefinger. He looked the
picture of woe. Aristide decided to bide his opportunity. He went out
into the streets again, now with the object of killing time. The
afternoon had advanced, and trees and buildings cast cool shadows in
which one could walk with comfort; and Nîmes, clear, bright city of wide
avenues and broad open spaces, instinct too with the grandeur that was
Rome's, is an idler's Paradise. Aristide knew it well; but he never
tired of it. He wandered round the Maison Carrée, his responsive nature
delighting in the splendour of the Temple, with its fluted Corinthian
columns, its noble entablature, its massive pediment, its perfect
proportions; reluctantly turned down the Boulevard Victor Hugo, past the
Lycée and the Bourse, made the circuit of the mighty, double-arched oval
of the Arena, and then retraced his steps. As he expected, M. Bocardon
had left the bureau. It was the hour of absinthe. The porter named M.
Bocardon's habitual café. There, in a morose corner of the terrace,
Aristide found the huge man gloomily contemplating an absurdly small
glass of the bitters known as Dubonnet. Aristide raised his hat, asked
permission to join him, and sat down.

"M. Bocardon," said he, carefully mixing the absinthe which he had
ordered, "I learn from my fair cousin that there is between you a
regrettable misunderstanding, for which I am sincerely sorry."

"She calls it a misunderstanding?" He laughed mirthlessly. "Women have
their own vocabulary. Listen, my good sir. There is infamy between us.
When a wife betrays a man like me--kind, indulgent, trustful, who
has worshipped the ground she treads on--it is not a question of
misunderstanding. It is infamy. If she had anywhere to lay her head, I
would turn her out of doors to-night. But she has not. You, who are her
relative, know I married her without a dowry. You alone of her family
survive."

It was on the tip of Aristide's impulsive tongue to say that he would be
only too willing to shelter her, but prudently he refrained.

"She has broken my heart," continued Bocardon.

Aristide asked for details of the unhappy affair. The large man
hesitated for a moment and glanced suspiciously at his companion; but,
fascinated by the clear, luminous eyes, he launched with Southern
violence into a whirling story. The villain was a traveller in
buttons--_buttons!_ To be wronged by a traveller in diamonds might have
its compensations--but buttons! Linen buttons, bone buttons, brass
buttons, _trouser buttons!_ To be a traveller in the inanity of
buttonholes was the only lower degradation. His name was Bondon--he
uttered it scathingly, as if to decline from a Bocardon to a Bondon was
unthinkable. This Bondon was a regular client of the hotel, and such a
client!--who never ordered a bottle of _vin cacheté_ or coffee or
cognac. A contemptible creature. For a long time he had his suspicions.
Now he was certain. He tossed off his glass of Dubonnet, ordered
another, and spoke incoherently of the opening and shutting of doors,
whisperings, of a dreadful incident, the central fact of which was a
glimpse of Zette gliding wraith-like down a corridor. Lastly, there was
the culminating proof, a letter found that morning in Zette's room.
He drew a crumpled sheet from his pocket and handed it to Aristide.

 [Illustration: "THE VILLAIN WAS A TRAVELLER IN BUTTONS--BUTTONS!"]

It was a crude, flaming, reprehensible, and entirely damning epistle.
Aristide turned cold, shivering at the idea of the superb and dainty
Zette coming in contact with such abomination. He hated Bondon with a
murderous hate. He drank a great gulp of absinthe and wished it were
Bondon's blood. Great tears rolled down Bocardon's face, and gathering
at the ends of his scrubby moustache dripped in splashes on the marble
table.

"I loved her so tenderly, monsieur," said he.

The cry, so human, went straight to Aristide's heart. A sympathetic tear
glistened in his bright eyes. He was suddenly filled with an immense
pity for this grief-stricken, helpless giant. An odd feminine streak ran
through his nature and showed itself in queer places. Impulsively he
stretched out his hand.

"You're going?" asked Bocardon.

"No. A sign of good friendship."

They gripped hands across the table. A new emotion thrilled through the
facile Aristide.

"Bocardon, I devote myself to you," he cried, with a flamboyant gesture.
"What can I do?"

"Alas, nothing," replied the other, miserably.

"And Zette? What does she say to it all?"

The mountainous shoulders heaved with a shrug. "She denies everything.
She had never seen the letter until I showed it to her. She did not
know how it came into her room. As if that were possible!"

"It's improbable," said Aristide, gloomily.

They talked. Bocardon, in a choking voice, told the simple tale of their
married happiness. It had been a love-match, different from the ordinary
marriages of reason and arrangement. Not a cloud since their
wedding-day. They were called the turtle-doves of the Rue de la
Curatterie. He had not even manifested the jealousy justifiable in the
possessor of so beautiful a wife. He had trusted her implicitly. He was
certain of her love. That was enough. They had had one child, who died.
Grief had brought them even nearer each other. And now this stroke had
been dealt. It was a knife being turned round in his heart. It was
agony.

They walked back to the hotel together. Zette, who was sitting by the
desk in the bureau, rose and, without a word or look, vanished down
the passage. Bocardon, with a great sigh, took her place. It was
dinner-time. The half-dozen guests and frequenters filled for a moment
the little hall, some waiting to wash their hands at the primitive
_lavabo_ by the foot of the stairs. Aristide accompanied them into the
_salle à manger_, where he dined in solemn silence. The dinner over he
went out again, passing by the bureau where Bocardon, in its dim
recesses, was eating a sad meal brought to him by the melancholy
Euphémie. Zette, he conjectured, was dining in the kitchen. An
atmosphere of desolation impregnated the place, as though a corpse were
somewhere in the house.

Aristide drank his coffee at the nearest café in a complicated state of
mind. He had fallen furiously in love with the lady, believing her to be
the victim of a jealous husband. In an outburst of generous emotion he
had taken the husband to his heart, seeing that he was a good man
stricken to death. Now he loved the lady, loved the husband, and hated
the villain Bondon. What Aristide felt, he felt fiercely. He would
reconcile these two people he loved, and then go and, if not assassinate
Bondon, at least do him some bodily injury. With this idea in his head,
he paid for his coffee and went back to the hotel.

He found Zette taking her turn at the bureau, for clients have to be
attended to, even in the most distressing circumstances. She was talking
to a new arrival, trying to smile a welcome. Aristide, loitering near,
watched her beautiful face, to which the perfect classic features gave
an air of noble purity. His soul revolted at the idea of her mixing
herself up with a sordid wretch like Bondon. It was unbelievable.

"_Eh bien_?" she said as soon as they were alone.

"Mme. Zette, to-day I called your husband a scoundrel and a crocodile. I
was wrong. I find him a man with a beautiful nature."

"You needn't tell me that, M. Aristide."

"You are breaking his heart, Mme. Zette."

"And is he not breaking mine? He has told you, I suppose. Am I
responsible for what I know nothing more about than a babe unborn? You
don't believe I am speaking the truth? Bah! And your professions this
afternoon? Wind and gas, like the words of all men."

"Mme. Zette," cried Aristide, "I said I would devote my life to your
service, and so I will. I'll go and find Bondon and kill him."

He watched her narrowly, but she did not grow pale like a woman whose
lover is threatened with mortal peril. She said dryly:--

"You had better have some conversation with him first."

"Where is he to be found?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "How do I know? He left by the early train
this morning that goes in the direction of Tarascon."

"Then to-morrow," said Aristide, who knew the ways of commercial
travellers, "he will be at Tarascon, or at Avignon, or at Arles."

"I heard him say that he had just done Arles."

"_Tant mieux._ I shall find him either at Tarascon or Avignon. And by
the Tarasque of Sainte-Marthe, I'll bring you his head and you can
put it up outside as a sign and call the place the 'Hôtel de la Tête
Bondon.'"

 [Illustration: HE BURST INTO SHRIEKS OF LAUGHTER]

Early the next morning Aristide started on his quest, without informing
the good Bocardon of his intentions. He would go straight to Avignon, as
the more likely place. Inquiries at the various hotels would soon enable
him to hunt down his quarry; and then--he did not quite know what would
happen then--but it would be something picturesque, something entirely
unforeseen by Bondon, something to be thrillingly determined by the
inspiration of the moment. In any case he would wipe the stain from the
family escutcheon. By this time he had convinced himself that he
belonged to the Bocardon family.

The only other occupant of the first-class compartment was an elderly
Englishwoman of sour aspect. Aristide, his head full of Zette and
Bondon, scarcely noticed her. The train started and sped through the
sunny land of vine and olive.

They had almost reached Tarascon when a sudden thought hit him between
the eyes, like the blow of a fist. He gasped for a moment, then he burst
into shrieks of laughter, kicking his legs up and down and waving his
arms in maniacal mirth. After that he rose and danced. The sour-faced
Englishwoman, in mortal terror, fled into the corridor. She must have
reported Aristide's behaviour to the guard, for in a minute or two that
official appeared at the doorway.

"_Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?_"

Aristide paused in his demonstrations of merriment. "Monsieur," said he,
"I have just discovered what I am going to do to M. Bondon."

Delight bubbled out of him as he walked from the Avignon Railway Station
up the Cours de la République. The wretch Bondon lay at his mercy. He
had not proceeded far, however, when his quick eye caught sight of an
object in the ramshackle display of a curiosity dealer's. He paused in
front of the window, fascinated. He rubbed his eyes.

"No," said he; "it is not a dream. The _bon Dieu_ is on my side."

He went into the shop and bought the object. It was a pair of handcuffs.

At a little after three o'clock the small and dilapidated hotel omnibus
drove up before the Hôtel de la Curatterie, and from it descended
Aristide Pujol, radiant-eyed, and a scrubby little man with a goatee
beard, pince-nez, and a dome-like forehead, who, pale and trembling,
seemed stricken with a great fear. It was Bondon. Together they entered
the little hall. As soon as Bocardon saw his enemy his eyes blazed with
fury, and, uttering an inarticulate roar, he rushed out of the bureau
with clenched fists murderously uplifted. The terrified Bondon shrank
into a corner, protected by Aristide, who, smiling like an angel of
peace, intercepted the onslaught of the huge man.

"Be calm, my good Bocardon, be calm."

But Bocardon would not be calm. He found his voice.

"Ah, scoundrel! Miscreant! Wretch! Traitor!" When his vocabulary of
vituperation and his breath failed him, he paused and mopped his
forehead.

Bondon came a step or two forward.

"I know, monsieur, I have all the wrong on my side. Your anger is
justifiable. But I never dreamt of the disastrous effect of my acts. Let
me see her, my good M. Bocardon, I beseech you."

"Let you see her?" said Bocardon, growing purple in the face.

At this moment Zette came running up the passage.

"What is all this noise about?"

"Ah, madame!" cried Bondon, eagerly, "I am heart-broken. You who are so
kind--let me see her."

"_Hein_?" exclaimed Bocardon, in stupefaction.

"See whom?" asked Zette.

"My dear dead one. My dear Euphémie, who has committed suicide."

"But he's mad!" shouted Bocardon, in his great voice. "Euphémie!
Euphémie! Come here!"

At the sight of Euphémie, pale and shivering with apprehension, Bondon
sank upon a bench by the wall. He stared at her as if she were a ghost.

"I don't understand," he murmured, faintly, looking like a trapped hare
at Aristide Pujol, who, debonair, hands on hips, stood a little way
apart.

"Nor I, either," cried Bocardon.

A great light dawned on Zette's beautiful face. "I do understand." She
exchanged glances with Aristide. He came forward.

"It's very simple," said he, taking the stage with childlike exultation.
"I go to find Bondon this morning to kill him. In the train I have a
sudden inspiration, a revelation from Heaven. It is not Zette but
Euphémie that is the _bonne amie_ of Bondon. I laugh, and frighten a
long-toothed English old maid out of her wits. Shall I get out at
Tarascon and return to Nîmes and tell you, or shall I go on? I decide to
go on. I make my plan. Ah, but when I make a plan, it's all in a second,
a flash, _pfuit!_ At Avignon I see a pair of handcuffs. I buy them. I
spend hours tracking that animal there. At last I find him at the
station about to start for Lyon. I tell him I am a police agent. I let
him see the handcuffs, which convince him. I tell him Euphémie, in
consequence of the discovery of his letter, has committed suicide. There
is a _procès-verbal_ at which he is wanted. I summon him to accompany me
in the name of the law--and there he is."

 [Illustration: "AND YOU!" SHOUTED BOCARDON, FALLING ON ARISTIDE; "I MUST
                EMBRACE YOU ALSO"]

"Then that letter was not for my wife?" said Bocardon, who was not
quick-witted.

"But, no, imbecile!" cried Aristide.

Bocardon hugged his wife in his vast embrace. The tears ran down his
cheeks.

"Ah, my little Zette, my little Zette, will you ever pardon me?"

"_Oui, je te pardonne, gros jaloux_," said Zette.

"And you!" shouted Bocardon, falling on Aristide; "I must embrace you
also." He kissed him on both cheeks, in his expansive way, and thrust
him towards Zette.

"You can also kiss my wife. It is I, Bocardon, who command it."

The fire of a not ignoble pride raced through Aristide's veins. He was a
hero. He knew it. It was a moment worth living.

The embraces and other expressions of joy and gratitude being
temporarily suspended, attention was turned to the unheroic couple who
up to then had said not one word to each other. The explanation of their
conduct, too, was simple, apparently. They were in love. She had no
dowry. He could not marry her, as his parents would not give their
consent. She, for her part, was frightened to death by the discovery of
the letter, lest Bocardon should turn her out of the house.

"What dowry will satisfy your parents?"

"Nothing less than twelve thousand francs."

"I give it," said Bocardon, reckless in his newly-found happiness.
"Marry her."

The clock in the bureau struck four. Aristide pulled out his watch.

"_Saperlipopette!_" he cried, and disappeared like a flash into the
street.

"But what's the matter with him?" shouted Bocardon, in amazement.

Zette went to the door. "He's running as if he had the devil at his
heels."

"Was he always like that?" asked her husband.

"How always?"

"_Parbleu!_ When you used to see him at your Aunt Léonie's."

Zette flushed red. To repudiate the saviour of her entire family were an
act of treachery too black for her ingenuous heart.

"Ah, yes," she replied, calmly, coming back into the hall. "We used to
call him Cousin Quicksilver."

In the big avenue Aristide hailed a passing cab.

"To the Hôtel du Luxembourg--at a gallop!"

In the joyous excitement of the past few hours this child of impulse
and sunshine, this dragon-fly of a man, had entirely forgotten the
appointment at two o'clock with the American millionaire and the fortune
that depended on it. He would be angry at being kept waiting. Aristide
had met Americans before. His swift brain invented an elaborate excuse.

He leaped from the cab and entered the vestibule of the hotel.

"Can I see M. Congleton?" he asked at the bureau.

"An American gentleman? He has gone, monsieur. He left by the
three-thirty train. Are you M. Pujol? There is a letter for you."

With a sinking heart he opened it and read:--

     DEAR SIR,--I was in this hotel at two o'clock, according to
     arrangement. As my last train to Japan leaves at three-thirty, I
     regret I cannot await your convenience. The site of the hotel is
     satisfactory. Your business methods are not. I am sorry, therefore,
     not to be able to entertain the matter further.--Faithfully,

     WILLIAM B. CONGLETON.

He stared at the words for a few paralyzed moments. Then he stuffed the
letter into his pocket and broke into a laugh.

"_Zut!_" said he, using the inelegant expletive whereby a Frenchman most
adequately expresses his scorn of circumstance. "_Zut!_ If I have lost a
fortune, I have gained two devoted friends, so I am the winner on the
day's work."

Whereupon he returned gaily to the bosom of the Bocardon family and
remained there, its Cousin Quicksilver and its entirely happy and
idolized hero, until the indignation of the eminent M. Say summoned him
to Paris.

And that is how Aristide Pujol could live thenceforward on nothing at
all at Nîmes, whenever it suited him to visit that historic town.



III

THE ADVENTURE OF THE KIND MR. SMITH


Aristide Pujol started life on his own account as a _chasseur_ in a Nice
café--one of those luckless children tightly encased in bottle-green
cloth by means of brass buttons, who earn a sketchy livelihood by
enduring with cherubic smiles the continuous maledictions of the
establishment. There he soothed his hours of servitude by dreams of
vast ambitions. He would become the manager of a great hotel--not a
contemptible hostelry where commercial travellers and seedy Germans were
indifferently bedded, but one of those white palaces where milords
(English) and millionaires (American) paid a thousand francs a night
for a bedroom and five louis for a glass of beer. Now, in order to
derive such profit from the Anglo-Saxon a knowledge of English was
indispensable. He resolved to learn the language. How he did so, except
by sheer effrontery, taking linguistic toll of frequenters of the café,
would be a mystery to anyone unacquainted with Aristide. But to his
friends his mastery of the English tongue in such circumstances is
comprehensible. To Aristide the impossible was ever the one thing easy
of attainment; the possible the one thing he never could achieve.
That was the paradoxical nature of the man. Before his days of
hunted-little-devildom were over he had acquired sufficient knowledge of
English to carry him, a few years later, through various vicissitudes in
England, until, fired by new social ambitions and self-educated in a
haphazard way, he found himself appointed Professor of French in an
academy for young ladies.

One of these days, when I can pin my dragon-fly friend down to a plain,
unvarnished autobiography, I may be able to trace some chronological
sequence in the kaleidoscopic changes in his career. But hitherto, in
his talks with me, he flits about from any one date to any other during
a couple of decades, in a manner so confusing that for the present I
abandon such an attempt. All I know of the date of the episode I am
about to chronicle is that it occurred immediately after the termination
of his engagement at the academy just mentioned. Somehow, Aristide's
history is a category of terminations.

If the head mistress of the academy had herself played dragon at his
classes, all would have gone well. He would have made his pupils
conjugate irregular verbs, rendered them adepts in the mysteries of the
past participle and the subjunctive mood, and turned them out quite
innocent of the idiomatic quaintnesses of the French tongue. But _dis
aliter visum_. The gods always saw wrong-headedly otherwise in the case
of Aristide. A weak-minded governess--and in a governess a sense of
humour and of novelty is always a sign of a weak mind--played dragon
during Aristide's lessons. She appreciated his method, which was
colloquial. The colloquial Aristide was jocular. His lessons therefore
were a giggling joy from beginning to end. He imparted to his pupils
delicious knowledge. _En avez-vous des-z-homards? Oh, les sales bêtes,
elles ont du poil aux pattes_, which, being translated, is: "Have you
any lobsters? Oh, the dirty animals, they have hair on their feet"--a
catch phrase which, some years ago, added greatly to the gaiety of
Paris, but in which I must confess to seeing no gleam of wit--became the
historic property of the school. He recited to them, till they were
word-perfect, a music-hall ditty of the early 'eighties--_Sur le bi,
sur le banc, sur le bi du bout du banc_, and delighted them with
dissertations on Mme. Yvette Guilbert's earlier repertoire. But for him
they would have gone to their lives' end without knowing that _pognon_
meant money; _rouspétance_, assaulting the police; _thune_, a five-franc
piece; and _bouffer_, to take nourishment. He made (according to his own
statement) French a living language. There was never a school in Great
Britain, the Colonies, or America on which the Parisian accent was so
electrically impressed. The retort, _Eh! ta soeur_, was the purest
Montmartre; also _Fich'-moi la paix, mon petit_, and _Tu as un toupet,
toi_; and the delectable locution, _Allons étrangler un perroquet_ (let
us strangle a parrot), employed by Apaches when inviting each other to
drink a glass of absinthe, soon became current French in the school for
invitations to surreptitious cocoa-parties.

The progress that academy made in a real grip of the French language was
miraculous; but the knowledge it gained in French grammar and syntax was
deplorable. A certain mid-term examination--the paper being set by a
neighbouring vicar--produced awful results. The phrase, "How do you do,
dear?" which ought, by all the rules of Stratford-atte-Bowe, to be
translated by _Comment vous portez-vous, ma chère?_ was rendered by most
of the senior scholars _Eh, ma vieille, ca boulotte?_ One innocent and
anachronistic damsel, writing on the execution of Charles I., declared
that he _cracha dans le panier_ in 1649, thereby mystifying the good
vicar, who was unaware that "to spit into the basket" is to be
guillotined. This wealth of vocabulary was discounted by abject poverty
in other branches of the language. No one could give a list of the words
in "_al_" that took "_s_" in the plural, no one knew anything at all
about the defective verb _échoir_, and the orthography of the school
would have disgraced a kindergarten. The head mistress suspected a lack
of method in the teaching of M. Pujol, and one day paid his class a
surprise visit.

The sight that met her eyes petrified her. The class, including the
governess, bubbled and gurgled and shrieked with laughter. M. Pujol, his
bright eyes agleam with merriment and his arms moving in frantic
gestures, danced about the platform. He was telling them a story--and
when Aristide told a story, he told it with the eloquence of his entire
frame. He bent himself double and threw out his hands.

"_Il était saoûl comme un porc_," he shouted.

And then came the hush of death. The rest of the artless tale about the
man as drunk as a pig was never told. The head mistress, indignant
majesty, strode up the room.

"M. Pujol, you have a strange way of giving French lessons."

"I believe, madame," said he, with a polite bow, "in interesting my
pupils in their studies."

"Pupils have to be taught, not interested," said the head mistress.
"Will you kindly put the class through some irregular verbs."

So for the remainder of the lesson Aristide, under the freezing eyes of
the head mistress, put his sorrowful class through irregular verbs, of
which his own knowledge was singularly inexact, and at the end received
his dismissal. In vain he argued. Outraged Minerva was implacable. Go he
must.

       *       *       *       *       *

We find him, then, one miserable December evening, standing on the
arrival platform of Euston Station (the academy was near Manchester), an
unwonted statue of dubiety. At his feet lay his meagre valise; in his
hand was an enormous bouquet, a useful tribute of esteem from his
disconsolate pupils; around him luggage-laden porters and passengers
hurried; in front were drawn up the long line of cabs, their drivers'
waterproofs glistening with wet; and in his pocket rattled the few
paltry coins that, for Heaven knew how long, were to keep him from
starvation. Should he commit the extravagance of taking a cab or should
he go forth, valise in hand, into the pouring rain? He hesitated.

"_Sacré mille cochons! Quel chien de climat!_" he muttered.

A smart footman standing by turned quickly and touched his hat.

"Beg pardon, sir; I'm from Mr. Smith."

"I'm glad to hear it, my friend," said Aristide.

"You're the French gentleman from Manchester?"

"Decidedly," said Aristide.

 [Illustration: STANDING ON THE ARRIVAL PLATFORM OF EUSTON STATION]

"Then, sir, Mr. Smith has sent the carriage for you."

"That's very kind of him," said Aristide.

The footman picked up the valise and darted down the platform. Aristide
followed. The footman held invitingly open the door of a cosy brougham.
Aristide paused for the fraction of a second. Who was this hospitable
Mr. Smith?

"Bah!" said he to himself, "the best way of finding out is to go and
see."

He entered the carriage, sank back luxuriously on the soft cushions, and
inhaled the warm smell of leather. They started, and soon the pelting
rain beat harmlessly against the windows. Aristide looked out at the
streaming streets, and, hugging himself comfortably, thanked Providence
and Mr. Smith. But who was Mr. Smith? _Tiens_, thought he, there were
two little Miss Smiths at the academy; he had pitied them because they
had chilblains, freckles, and perpetual colds in their heads; possibly
this was their kind papa. But, after all, what did it matter whose papa
he was? He was expecting him. He had sent the carriage for him.
Evidently a well-bred and attentive person. And _tiens!_ there was even
a hot-water can on the floor of the brougham. "He thinks of everything,
that man," said Aristide. "I feel I am going to like him."

The carriage stopped at a house in Hampstead, standing, as far as he
could see in the darkness, in its own grounds. The footman opened the
door for him to alight and escorted him up the front steps. A neat
parlour-maid received him in a comfortably-furnished hall and took his
hat and greatcoat and magnificent bouquet.

"Mr. Smith hasn't come back yet from the City, sir; but Miss Christabel
is in the drawing-room."

"Ah!" said Aristide. "Please give me back my bouquet."

The maid showed him into the drawing-room. A pretty girl of
three-and-twenty rose from a fender-stool and advanced smilingly to meet
him.

"Good afternoon, M. le Baron. I was wondering whether Thomas would spot
you. I'm so glad he did. You see, neither father nor I could give him
any description, for we had never seen you."

This fitted in with his theory. But why Baron? After all, why not? The
English loved titles.

"He seems to be an intelligent fellow, mademoiselle."

There was a span of silence. The girl looked at the bouquet, then at
Aristide, who looked at the girl, then at the bouquet, then at the girl
again.

"Mademoiselle," said he, "will you deign to accept these flowers as a
token of my respectful homage?"

Miss Christabel took the flowers and blushed prettily. She had dark hair
and eyes and a fascinating, upturned little nose, and the kindest
little mouth in the world.

"An Englishman would not have thought of that," she said.

Aristide smiled in his roguish way and raised a deprecating hand.

"Oh, yes, he would. But he would not have had--what you call the cheek
to do it."

Miss Christabel laughed merrily, invited him to a seat by the fire,
and comforted him with tea and hot muffins. The frank charm of his
girl-hostess captivated Aristide and drove from his mind the riddle of
his adventure. Besides, think of the Arabian Nights' enchantment of the
change from his lonely and shabby bed-sitting-room in the Rusholme Road
to this fragrant palace with princess and all to keep him company! He
watched the firelight dancing through her hair, the dainty play of
laughter over her face, and decided that the brougham had transported
him to Bagdad instead of Hampstead.

"You have the air of a veritable princess," said he.

"I once met a princess--at a charity bazaar--and she was a most
matter-of-fact, businesslike person."

"Bah!" said Aristide. "A princess of a charity bazaar! I was talking of
the princess in a fairytale. They are the only real ones."

"Do you know," said Miss Christabel, "that when men pay such compliments
to English girls they are apt to get laughed at?"

"Englishmen, yes," replied Aristide, "because they think over a
compliment for a week, so that by the time they pay it, it is addled,
like a bad egg. But we of Provence pay tribute to beauty straight out of
our hearts. It is true. It is sincere. And what comes out of the heart
is not ridiculous."

Again the girl coloured and laughed. "I've always heard that a Frenchman
makes love to every woman he meets."

"Naturally," said Aristide. "If they are pretty. What else are pretty
women for? Otherwise they might as well be hideous."

"Oh!" said the girl, to whom this Provençal point of view had not
occurred.

"So, if I make love to you, it is but your due."

"I wonder what my fiancé would say if he heard you?"

"Your----?"

"My fiancé! There's his photograph on the table beside you. He is six
foot one, and so jealous!" she laughed again.

"The Turk!" cried Aristide, his swiftly-conceived romance crumbling into
dust. Then he brightened up. "But when this six feet of muscle and
egotism is absent, surely other poor mortals can glean a smile?"

"You will observe that I'm not frowning," said Miss Christabel. "But you
must not call my fiancé a Turk, for he's a very charming fellow whom I
hope you'll like very much."

Aristide sighed. "And the name of this thrice-blessed mortal?"

Miss Christabel told his name--one Harry Ralston--and not only his name,
but, such was the peculiar, childlike charm of Aristide Pujol, also many
other things about him. He was the Honourable Harry Ralston, the heir
to a great brewery peerage, and very wealthy. He was a member of
Parliament, and but for Parliamentary duties would have dined there that
evening; but he was to come in later, as soon as he could leave the
House. He also had a house in Hampshire, full of the most beautiful
works of art. It was through their common hobby that her father and
Harry had first made acquaintance.

"We're supposed to have a very fine collection here," she said, with a
motion of her hand.

Aristide looked round the walls and saw them hung with pictures in gold
frames. In those days he had not acquired an extensive culture. Besides,
who having before him the firelight gleaming through Miss Christabel's
hair could waste his time over painted canvas? She noted his cursory
glance.

"I thought you were a connoisseur?"

"I am," said Aristide, his bright eyes fixed on her in frank admiration.

She blushed again; but this time she rose.

"I must go and dress for dinner. Perhaps you would like to be shown your
room?"

He hung his head on one side.

"Have I been too bold, mademoiselle?"

"I don't know," she said. "You see, I've never met a Frenchman before."

"Then a world of undreamed-of homage is at your feet," said he.

A servant ushered him up broad, carpeted staircases into a bedroom such
as he had never seen in his life before. It was all curtains and
hangings and rugs and soft couches and satin quilts and dainty
writing-tables and subdued lights, and a great fire glowed red and
cheerful, and before it hung a clean shirt. His poor little toilet
apparatus was laid on the dressing-table, and (with a tact which he did
not appreciate, for he had, sad to tell, no dress-suit) the servant had
spread his precious frock-coat and spare pair of trousers on the bed. On
the pillow lay his night-shirt, neatly folded.

"Evidently," said Aristide, impressed by these preparations, "it is
expected that I wash myself now and change my clothes, and that I sleep
here for the night. And for all that the ravishing Miss Christabel is
engaged to her honourable Harry, this is none the less a corner of
Paradise."

So Aristide attired himself in his best, which included a white tie and
a pair of nearly new brown boots--a long task, as he found that his
valise had been spirited away and its contents, including the white
tie of ceremony (he had but one), hidden in unexpected drawers and
wardrobes--and eventually went downstairs into the drawing-room. There
he found Miss Christabel and, warming himself on the hearthrug, a
bald-headed, beefy-faced Briton, with little pig's eyes and a hearty
manner, attired in a dinner-suit.

"My dear fellow," said this personage, with outstretched hand, "I'm
delighted to have you here. I've heard so much about you; and my little
girl has been singing your praises."

"Mademoiselle is too kind," said Aristide.

"You must take us as you find us," said Mr. Smith. "We're just ordinary
folk, but I can give you a good bottle of wine and a good cigar--it's
only in England, you know, that you can get champagne fit to drink and
cigars fit to smoke--and I can give you a glimpse of a modest English
home. I believe you haven't a word for it in French."

"_Ma foi_, no," said Aristide, who had once or twice before heard this
lunatic charge brought against his country. "In France the men all live
in cafés, the children are all put out to nurse, and the women, saving
the respect of mademoiselle--well, the less said about them the better."

"England is the only place, isn't it?" Mr. Smith declared, heartily. "I
don't say that Paris hasn't its points. But after all--the Moulin Rouge
and the Folies Bergères and that sort of thing soon pall, you know--soon
pall."

"Yet Paris has its serious side," argued Aristide. "There is always the
tomb of Napoleon."

"Papa will never take me to Paris," sighed the girl.

"You shall go there on your honeymoon," said Mr. Smith.

Dinner was announced. Aristide gave his arm to Miss Christabel, and
proud not only of his partner, but also of his frock-coat, white tie,
and shiny brown boots, strutted into the dining-room. The host sat at
the end of the beautifully set table, his daughter on his right,
Aristide on his left. The meal began gaily. The kind Mr. Smith was in
the best of humours.

"And how is our dear old friend, Jules Dancourt?" he asked.

"_Tiens!_" said Aristide, to himself, "we have a dear friend Jules
Dancourt. Wonderfully well," he replied at a venture, "but he suffers
terribly at times from the gout."

"So do I, confound it!" said Mr. Smith, drinking sherry.

"You and the good Jules were always sympathetic," said Aristide. "Ah! he
has spoken to me so often about you, the tears in his eyes."

"Men cry, my dear, in France," Mr. Smith explained. "They also kiss each
other."

"_Ah, mais c'est un beau pays, mademoiselle!_" cried Aristide, and he
began to talk of France and to draw pictures of his country which set
the girl's eyes dancing. After that he told some of the funny little
stories which had brought him disaster at the academy. Mr. Smith, with
jovial magnanimity, declared that he was the first Frenchman he had ever
met with a sense of humour.

"But I thought, Baron," said he, "that you lived all your life shut up
in that old château of yours?"

"_Tiens!_" thought Aristide. "I am still a Baron, and I have an old
château."

"Tell us about the château. Has it a fosse and a drawbridge and a Gothic
chapel?" asked Miss Christabel.

"Which one do you mean?" inquired Aristide, airily. "For I have two."

When relating to me this Arabian Nights' adventure, he drew my special
attention to his astuteness.

His host's eye quivered in a wink. "The one in Languedoc," said he.

Languedoc! Almost Pujol's own country! With entire lack of morality, but
with picturesque imagination, Aristide plunged into a description of
that non-existent baronial hall. Fosse, drawbridge, Gothic chapel were
but insignificant features. It had tourelles, emblazoned gateways,
bastions, donjons, barbicans; it had innumerable rooms; in the _salle
des chevaliers_ two hundred men-at-arms had his ancestors fed at a
sitting. There was the room in which François Premier had slept, and one
in which Joan of Arc had almost been assassinated. What the name of
himself or of his ancestors was supposed to be Aristide had no ghost of
an idea. But as he proceeded with the erection of his airy palace he
gradually began to believe in it. He invested the place with a living
atmosphere; conjured up a staff of family retainers, notably one
Marie-Joseph Loufoque, the wizened old major-domo, with his long white
whiskers and blue and silver livery. There were also Madeline Mioulles,
the cook, and Bernadet the groom, and La Petite Fripette the goose girl.
Ah! they should see La Petite Fripette! And he kept dogs and horses and
cows and ducks and hens--and there was a great pond whence frogs were
drawn to be fed for the consumption of the household.

Miss Christabel shivered. "I should not like to eat frogs."

"They also eat snails," said her father.

"I have a snail farm," said Aristide. "You never saw such interesting
little animals. They are so intelligent. If you're kind to them they
come and eat out of your hand."

 [Illustration: "AH! THE PICTURES," CRIED ARISTIDE, WITH A WIDE SWEEP
                OF HIS ARMS]

"You've forgotten the pictures," said Mr. Smith.

"Ah! the pictures," cried Aristide, with a wide sweep of his arms.
"Galleries full of them. Raphael, Michael Angelo, Wiertz, Reynolds----"

He paused, not in order to produce the effect of a dramatic aposiopesis,
but because he could not for the moment remember other names of
painters.

"It is a truly historical château," said he.

"I should love to see it," said the girl.

Aristide threw out his arms across the table. "It is yours,
mademoiselle, for your honeymoon," said he.

Dinner came to an end. Miss Christabel left the gentlemen to their wine,
an excellent port whose English qualities were vaunted by the host.
Aristide, full of food and drink and the mellow glories of the castle in
Languedoc, and smoking an enormous cigar, felt at ease with all the
world. He knew he should like the kind Mr. Smith, hospitable though
somewhat insular man. He could stay with him for a week--or a month--why
not a year?

After coffee and liqueurs had been served Mr. Smith rose and switched on
a powerful electric light at the end of the large room, showing a
picture on an easel covered by a curtain. He beckoned to Aristide to
join him and, drawing the curtain, disclosed the picture.

"There!" said he. "Isn't it a stunner?"

It was a picture all grey skies and grey water and grey feathery trees,
and a little man in the foreground wore a red cap.

"It is beautiful, but indeed it is magnificent!" cried Aristide, always
impressionable to things of beauty.

"Genuine Corot, isn't it?"

"Without doubt," said Aristide.

His host poked him in the ribs. "I thought I'd astonish you. You
wouldn't believe Gottschalk could have done it. There it is--as large as
life and twice as natural. If you or anyone else can tell it from a
genuine Corot I'll eat my hat. And all for eight pounds."

Aristide looked at the beefy face and caught a look of cunning in the
little pig's eyes.

"Now are you satisfied?" asked Mr. Smith.

"More than satisfied," said Aristide, though what he was to be satisfied
about passed, for the moment, his comprehension.

"If it was a copy of an existing picture, you know--one might have
understood it--that, of course, would be dangerous--but for a man to go
and get bits out of various Corots and stick them together like this is
miraculous. If it hadn't been for a matter of business principle I'd
have given the fellow eight guineas instead of pounds--hanged if I
wouldn't! He deserves it."

"He does indeed," said Aristide Pujol.

"And now that you've seen it with your own eyes, what do you think you
might ask me for it? I suggested something between two and three
thousand--shall we say three? You're the owner, you know." Again the
process of rib-digging. "Came out of that historic château of yours. My
eye! you're a holy terror when you begin to talk. You almost persuaded
me it was real."

"_Tiens!_" said Aristide to himself. "I don't seem to have a château
after all."

"Certainly three thousand," said he, with a grave face.

"That young man thinks he knows a lot, but he doesn't," said Mr. Smith.

"Ah!" said Aristide, with singular laconicism.

"Not a blooming thing," continued his host. "But he'll pay three
thousand, which is the principal, isn't it? He's partner in the show,
you know, Ralston, Wiggins, and Wix's Brewery"--Aristide pricked up his
ears--"and when his doddering old father dies he'll be Lord Ranelagh and
come into a million of money."

"Has he seen the picture?" asked Aristide.

"Oh, yes. Regards it as a masterpiece. Didn't Brauneberger tell you of
the Lancret we planted on the American?" Mr. Smith rubbed hearty hands
at the memory of the iniquity. "Same old game. Always easy. I have
nothing to do with the bargaining or the sale. Just an old friend of
the ruined French nobleman with the historic château and family
treasures. He comes along and fixes the price. I told our friend
Harry----"

"Good," thought Aristide. "This is the same Honourable Harry, M.P., who
is engaged to the ravishing Miss Christabel."

"I told him," said Mr. Smith, "that it might come to three or four
thousand. He jibbed a bit--so when I wrote to you I said two or three.
But you might try him with three to begin with."

Aristide went back to the table and poured himself out a fresh glass of
his kind host's 1865 brandy and drank it off.

"Exquisite, my dear fellow," said he. "I've none finer in my historic
château."

"Don't suppose you have," grinned the host, joining him. He slapped him
on the back. "Well," said he, with a shifty look in his little pig's
eyes, "let us talk business. What do you think would be your fair
commission? You see, all the trouble and invention have been mine. What
do you say to four hundred pounds?"

"Five," said Aristide, promptly.

A sudden gleam came into the little pig's eyes.

"Done!" said Mr. Smith, who had imagined that the other would demand a
thousand and was prepared to pay eight hundred. "Done!" said he again.

They shook hands to seal the bargain and drank another glass of old
brandy. At that moment, a servant, entering, took the host aside.

"Please excuse me a moment," said he, and went with the servant out of
the room.

Aristide, left alone, lighted another of his kind host's fat cigars
and threw himself into a great leathern arm-chair by the fire, and
surrendered himself deliciously to the soothing charm of the moment. Now
and then he laughed, finding a certain comicality in his position. And
what a charming father-in-law, this kind Mr. Smith!

His cheerful reflections were soon disturbed by the sudden irruption of
his host and a grizzled, elderly, foxy-faced gentleman with a white
moustache, wearing the ribbon of the Legion of Honour in the buttonhole
of his overcoat.

"Here, you!" cried the kind Mr. Smith, striding up to Aristide, with a
very red face. "Will you have the kindness to tell me who the devil you
are?"

Aristide rose, and, putting his hands behind the tails of his
frock-coat, stood smiling radiantly on the hearthrug. A wit much less
alert than my irresponsible friend's would have instantly appreciated
the fact that the real Simon Pure had arrived on the scene.

"I, my dear friend," said he, "am the Baron de Je ne Sais Plus."

"You're a confounded impostor," spluttered Mr. Smith.

"And this gentleman here to whom I have not had the pleasure of being
introduced?" asked Aristide, blandly.

"I am M. Poiron, monsieur, the agent of Messrs. Brauneberger and
Compagnie, art dealers, of the Rue Notre Dame des Petits Champs of
Paris," said the new-comer, with an air of defiance.

"Ah, I thought you were the Baron," said Aristide.

"There's no blooming Baron at all about it!" screamed Mr. Smith. "Are
you Poiron, or is he?"

"I would not have a name like Poiron for anything in the world," said
Aristide. "My name is Aristide Pujol, soldier of fortune, at your
service."

"How the blazes did you get here?"

"Your servant asked me if I was a French gentleman from Manchester. I
was. He said that Mr. Smith had sent his carriage for me. I thought it
hospitable of the kind Mr. Smith. I entered the carriage--_et voilà!_"

"Then clear out of here this very minute," said Mr. Smith, reaching
forward his hand to the bell-push.

Aristide checked his impulsive action.

"Pardon me, dear host," said he. "It is raining dogs and cats outside. I
am very comfortable in your luxurious home. I am here, and here I
stay."

"I'm shot if you do," said the kind Mr. Smith, his face growing redder
and uglier. "Now, will you go out, or will you be thrown out?"

Aristide, who had no desire whatever to be ejected from this snug nest
into the welter of the wet and friendless world, puffed at his cigar,
and looked at his host with the irresistible drollery of his eyes.

"You forget, _mon cher ami_," said he, "that neither the beautiful Miss
Christabel nor her affianced, the Honourable Harry, M.P., would care to
know that the talented Gottschalk got only eight pounds, not even
guineas, for painting that three-thousand-pound picture."

"So it's blackmail, eh?"

"Precisely," said Aristide, "and I don't blush at it."

"You infernal little blackguard!"

"I seem to be in congenial company," said Aristide. "I don't think our
friend M. Poiron has more scruples than he has right to the ribbon of
the Legion of Honour which he is wearing."

"How much will you take to go out? I have a cheque-book handy."

Mr. Smith moved a few steps from the hearthrug. Aristide sat down in the
arm-chair. An engaging, fantastic impudence was one of the charms of
Aristide Pujol.

"I'll take five hundred pounds," said he, "to stay in."

"Stay in?" Mr. Smith grew apoplectic.

"Yes," said Aristide. "You can't do without me. Your daughter and your
servants know me as M. le Baron--by the way, what is my name? And where
is my historic château in Languedoc?"

"Mireilles," said M. Poiron, who was sitting grim and taciturn on one of
the dining-room chairs. "And the place is the same, near Montpellier."

"I like to meet an intelligent man," said Aristide.

"I should like to wring your infernal neck," said the kind Mr. Smith.
"But, by George, if we do let you in you'll have to sign me a receipt
implicating yourself up to the hilt. I'm not going to be put into the
cart by you, you can bet your life."

"Anything you like," said Aristide, "so long as we all swing together."

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, when Aristide Pujol arrived at this point in his narrative I, his
chronicler, who am nothing if not an eminently respectable, law-abiding
Briton, took him warmly to task for his sheer absence of moral sense.
His eyes, as they sometimes did, assumed a luminous pathos.

 [Illustration: "I'LL TAKE FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS," SAID HE, "TO STAY IN"]

"My dear friend," said he, "have you ever faced the world in a foreign
country in December with no character and fifteen pounds five and
three-pence in your pocket? Five hundred pounds was a fortune. It is
one now. And to be gained just by lending oneself to a good farce, which
didn't hurt anybody. You and your British morals! Bah!" said he, with a
fine flourish.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aristide, after much parleying, was finally admitted into the nefarious
brotherhood. He was to retain his rank as the Baron de Mireilles, and
play the part of the pecuniarily inconvenienced nobleman forced to sell
some of his rare collection. Mr. Smith had heard of the Corot through
their dear old common friend, Jules Dancourt of Rheims, had mentioned it
alluringly to the Honourable Harry, had arranged for the Baron, who was
visiting England, to bring it over and dispatch it to Mr. Smith's house,
and on his return from Manchester to pay a visit to Mr. Smith, so that
he could meet the Honourable Harry in person. In whatever transaction
ensued Mr. Smith, so far as his prospective son-in-law was concerned,
was to be the purely disinterested friend. It was Aristide's wit which
invented a part for the supplanted M. Poiron. He should be the eminent
Parisian expert who, chancing to be in London, had been telephoned for
by the kind Mr. Smith.

"It would not be wise for M. Poiron," said Aristide, chuckling inwardly
with puckish glee, "to stay here for the night--or for two or three
days--or a week--like myself. He must go back to his hotel when the
business is concluded."

"_Mais, pardon!_" cried M. Poiron, who had been formally invited, and
had arrived late solely because he had missed his train at Manchester,
and come on by the next one. "I cannot go out into the wet, and I have
no hotel to go to."

Aristide appealed to his host. "But he is unreasonable, _cher ami_. He
must play his _rôle_. M. Poiron has been telephoned for. He can't
possibly stay here. Surely five hundred pounds is worth one little night
of discomfort? And there are a legion of hotels in London."

"Five hundred pounds!" exclaimed M. Poiron. "_Qu'est-ce que vous chantez
là?_ I want more than five hundred pounds."

"Then you're jolly well not going to get it," cried Mr. Smith, in a
rage. "And as for you"--he turned on Aristide--"I'll wring your infernal
neck yet."

"Calm yourself, calm yourself!" smiled Aristide, who was enjoying
himself hugely.

At this moment the door opened and Miss Christabel appeared. On seeing
the decorated stranger she started with a little "Oh!" of surprise.

"I beg your pardon."

Mr. Smith's angry face wreathed itself in smiles.

"This, my darling, is M. Poiron, the eminent Paris expert, who has been
good enough to come and give us his opinion on the picture."

M. Poiron bowed. Aristide advanced.

"Mademoiselle, your appearance is like a mirage in a desert."

She smiled indulgently and turned to her father. "I've been wondering
what had become of you. Harry has been here for the last half-hour."

"Bring him in, dear child, bring him in!" said Mr. Smith, with all the
heartiness of the fine old English gentleman. "Our good friends are
dying to meet him."

The girl flickered out of the room like a sunbeam (the phrase is
Aristide's), and the three precious rascals put their heads together in
a hurried and earnest colloquy. Presently Miss Christabel returned, and
with her came the Honourable Harry Ralston, a tall, soldierly fellow,
with close-cropped fair curly hair and a fair moustache, and frank blue
eyes that, even in Parliament, had seen no harm in his fellow-creatures.
Aristide's magical vision caught him wincing ever so little at Mr.
Smith's effusive greeting and overdone introductions. He shook Aristide
warmly by the hand.

"You have a beauty there, Baron, a perfect beauty," said he, with the
insane ingenuousness of youth. "I wonder how you can manage to part with
it."

"_Ma foi_," said Aristide, with his back against the end of the
dining-table and gazing at the masterpiece. "I have so many at the
Château de Mireilles. When one begins to collect, you know--and when
one's grandfather and father have had also the divine mania----"

"You were saying, M. le Baron," said M. Poiron of Paris, "that your
respected grandfather bought this direct from Corot himself."

"A commission," said Aristide. "My grandfather was a patron of Corot."

"Do you like it, dear?" asked the Honourable Harry.

"Oh, yes!" replied the girl, fervently. "It is beautiful. I feel like
Harry about it." She turned to Aristide. "How can you part with it? Were
you really in earnest when you said you would like me to come and see
your collection?"

"For me," said Aristide, "it would be a visit of enchantment."

"You must take me, then," she whispered to Harry. "The Baron has been
telling us about his lovely old château."

"Will you come, monsieur?" asked Aristide.

"Since I'm going to rob you of your picture," said the young man, with
smiling courtesy, "the least I can do is to pay you a visit of apology.
Lovely!" said he, going up to the Corot.

Aristide took Miss Christabel, now more bewitching than ever with the
glow of young love in her eyes and a flush on her cheek, a step or two
aside and whispered:--

"But he is charming, your fiancé! He almost deserves his good fortune."

"Why almost?" she laughed, shyly.

"It is not a man, but a demi-god, that would deserve you, mademoiselle."

M. Poiron's harsh voice broke out.

"You see, it is painted in the beginning of Corot's later manner--it is
1864. There is the mystery which, when he was quite an old man, became a
trick. If you were to put it up to auction at Christie's it would fetch,
I am sure, five thousand pounds."

"That's more than I can afford to give," said the young man, with a
laugh. "Mr. Smith mentioned something between three and four thousand
pounds. I don't think I can go above three."

"I have nothing to do with it, my dear boy, nothing whatever," said Mr.
Smith, rubbing his hands. "You wanted a Corot. I said I thought I could
put you on to one. It's for the Baron here to mention his price. I
retire now and for ever."

"Well, Baron?" said the young man, cheerfully. "What's your idea?"

Aristide came forward and resumed his place at the end of the table. The
picture was in front of him beneath the strong electric light; on his
left stood Mr. Smith and Poiron, on his right Miss Christabel and the
Honourable Harry.

"I'll not take three thousand pounds for it," said Aristide. "A picture
like that! Never!"

"I assure you it would be a fair price," said Poiron.

"You mentioned that figure yourself only just now," said Mr. Smith, with
an ugly glitter in his little pig's eyes.

"I presume, gentlemen," said Aristide, "that this picture is my own
property." He turned engagingly to his host. "Is it not, _cher ami_?"

"Of course it is. Who said it wasn't?"

"And you, M. Poiron, acknowledge formally that it is mine," he asked, in
French.

"_Sans aucun doute._"

"_Eh bien_," said Aristide, throwing open his arms and gazing round
sweetly. "I have changed my mind. I do not sell the picture at all."

"Not sell it? What the--what do you mean?" asked Mr. Smith, striving to
mellow the gathering thunder on his brow.

"I do not sell," said Aristide. "Listen, my dear friends!" He was in the
seventh heaven of happiness--the principal man, the star, taking the
centre of the stage. "I have an announcement to make to you. I have
fallen desperately in love with mademoiselle."

There was a general gasp. Mr. Smith looked at him, red-faced and
open-mouthed. Miss Christabel blushed furiously and emitted a sound half
between a laugh and a scream. Harry Ralston's eyes flashed.

"My dear sir----" he began.

"Pardon," said Aristide, disarming him with the merry splendour of his
glance. "I do not wish to take mademoiselle from you. My love is
hopeless! I know it. But it will feed me to my dying day. In return for
the joy of this hopeless passion I will not sell you the picture--I give
it to you as a wedding present."

He stood, with the air of a hero, both arms extended towards the amazed
pair of lovers.

"I give it to you," said he. "It is mine. I have no wish but for your
happiness. In my Château de Mireilles there are a hundred others."

"This is madness!" said Mr. Smith, bursting with suppressed indignation,
so that his bald head grew scarlet.

"My dear fellow!" said Mr. Harry Ralston. "It is unheard-of generosity
on your part. But we can't accept it."

"Then," said Aristide, advancing dramatically to the picture, "I take it
under my arm, I put it in a hansom cab, and I go with it back to
Languedoc."

Mr. Smith caught him by the wrist and dragged him out of the room.

"You little brute! Do you want your neck broken?"

"Do you want the marriage of your daughter with the rich and Honourable
Harry broken?" asked Aristide.

"Oh, damn! Oh, damn! Oh, damn!" cried Mr. Smith, stamping about
helplessly and half weeping.

Aristide entered the dining-room and beamed on the company.

"The kind Mr. Smith has consented. Mr. Honourable Harry and Miss
Christabel, there is your Corot. And now, may I be permitted?" He rang
the bell. A servant appeared.

"Some champagne to drink to the health of the fiancés," he cried. "Lots
of champagne."

Mr. Smith looked at him almost admiringly.

"By Jove!" he muttered. "You _have_ got a nerve."

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Voilà!_" said Aristide, when he had finished the story.

"And did they accept the Corot?" I asked.

"Of course. It is hanging now in the big house in Hampshire. I stayed
with the kind Mr. Smith for six weeks," he added, doubling himself up in
his chair and hugging himself with mirth, "and we became very good
friends. And I was at the wedding."

"And what about their honeymoon visit to Languedoc?"

"Alas!" said Aristide. "The morning before the wedding I had a
telegram--it was from my old father at Aigues-Mortes--to tell me that
the historic Château de Mireilles, with my priceless collection of
pictures, had been burned to the ground."



IV

THE ADVENTURE OF THE FOUNDLING


There was a time when Aristide Pujol, in sole charge of an automobile,
went gaily scuttering over the roads of France. I use the word
advisedly. If you had heard the awful thing as it passed by you would
agree that it is the only word adequate to express its hideous mode of
progression. It was a two-seated, scratched, battered, ramshackle tin
concern of hoary antiquity, belonging to the childhood of the race. Not
only horses, but other automobiles shied at it. It was a vehicle of
derision. Yet Aristide regarded it with glowing pride and drove it with
such daredevilry that the parts must have held together only through
sheer breathless wonder. Had it not been for the car, he told me, he
would not have undertaken the undignified employment in which he was
then engaged--the mountebank selling of a corn-cure in the public places
of small towns and villages. It was not a fitting pursuit for a late
managing director of a public company and an ex-Professor of French in
an English Academy for Young Ladies. He wanted to rise, _ma foi_, not
descend in the social scale. But when hunger drives--_que voulez-vous_?
Besides, there was the automobile. It is true he had bound himself by
his contract to exhibit a board at the back bearing a flaming picture of
the success of the cure and a legend: "_Guérissez vos cors_," and to
display a banner with the same device, when weather permitted. But,
still, there was the automobile.

It had been lying for many motor-ages in the shed of the proprietors of
the cure, the Maison Hiéropath of Marseilles, neglected, forlorn, eaten
by rust and worm, when suddenly an idea occurred to their business
imagination. Why should they not use the automobile to advertise and
sell the cure about the country? The apostle in charge would pay for his
own petrol, take a large percentage on sales, and the usual traveller's
commission on orders that he might place. But where to find an apostle?
Brave and desperate men came in high hopes, looked at the car, and,
shaking their heads sorrowfully, went away. At last, at the loosest of
ends, came Aristide. The splendour of the idea--a poet, in his way, was
Aristide, and the Idea was the thing that always held him captive--the
splendour of the idea of dashing up to hotels in his own automobile
dazed him. He beheld himself doing his hundred kilometres an hour and
trailing clouds of glory whithersoever he went. To a child a moth-eaten
rocking-horse is a fiery Arab of the plains; to Aristide Pujol this
cheat of the scrap-heap was a sixty-horse-power thunderer and devourer
of space.

How they managed to botch up her interior so that she moved unpushed
is a mystery which Aristide, not divining, could not reveal; and when
and where he himself learned to drive a motor-car is also vague. I
believe the knowledge came by nature. He was a fellow of many weird
accomplishments. He could conjure; he could model birds and beasts out
of breadcrumb; he could play the drum--so well that he had a kettle-drum
hanging round his neck during most of his military service; he could
make omelettes and rabbit-hutches; he could imitate any animal that ever
emitted sound--a gift that endeared him to children; he could do almost
anything you please--save stay in one place and acquire material
possessions. The fact that he had never done a thing before was to him
no proof of his inability to do it. In his superb self-confidence he
would have undertaken to conduct the orchestra at Covent Garden or
navigate a liner across the Atlantic. Knowing this, I cease to bother my
head about so small a matter as the way in which he learned to drive a
motor-car.

Behold him, then, one raw March morning, scuttering along the road that
leads from Arles to Salon, in Provence. He wore a goat-skin coat and a
goat-skin cap drawn down well over his ears. His handsome bearded face,
with its lustrous, laughing eyes, peeped out curiously human amid the
circumambient shagginess. There was not a turn visible in the long,
straight road that lost itself in the far distant mist; not a speck on
it signifying cart or creature. Aristide Pujol gave himself up to the
delirium of speed and urged the half-bursting engine to twenty miles an
hour. In spite of the racing-track surface, the crazy car bumped and
jolted; the sides of the rickety bonnet clashed like cymbals; every
valve wheezed and squealed; every nut seemed to have got loose and
terrifically clattered; rattling noises, grunting noises, screeching
noises escaped from every part; it creaked and clanked like an
over-insured tramp-steamer in a typhoon; it lurched as though afflicted
with loco-motor ataxy; and noisome vapours belched forth from the open
exhaust-pipe as though the car were a Tophet on wheels. But all was
music in the ears of Aristide. The car was going (it did not always go),
the road scudded under him, and the morning air dashed stingingly into
his face. For the moment he desired nothing more of life.

This road between Arles and Salon runs through one of the most desolate
parts of France: a long, endless plain, about five miles broad, lying
between two long low ranges of hills. It is strewn like a monstrous
Golgotha, not with skulls, but with huge smooth pebbles, as massed
together as the shingle on a beach. Rank grass shoots up in what
interstices it finds; but beyond this nothing grows. Nothing can grow.
On a sunless day under a lowering sky it is a land accursed. Mile after
mile for nearly twenty miles stretches this stony and barren waste. No
human habitation cheers the sight, for from such a soil no human hand
could wrest a sustenance. Only the rare traffic going from Arles to
Salon and from Salon to Arles passes along the road. The cheery passing
show of the live highway is wanting; there are no children, no dogs,
no ducks and hens, no men and women lounging to their work; no
red-trousered soldiers on bicycles, no blue-bloused, weather-beaten
farmers jogging along in their little carts. As far as the eye can reach
nothing suggestive of man meets the view. Nothing but the infinite
barrenness of the plain, the ridges on either side, the long, straight,
endless road cleaving through this abomination of desolation.

To walk through it would be a task as depressing as mortal could
execute. But to the speed-drunken motorist it is a realization of dim
and tremulous visions of Paradise. What need to look to right or left
when you are swallowing up free mile after mile of dizzying road?
Aristide looked neither to right nor left, and knew this was heaven at
last.

 [Illustration: BETWEEN THE FOLDS OF THE BLANKET PEEPED THE FACE OF A
                SLEEPING CHILD]

Suddenly, however, he became aware of a small black spot far ahead in
the very middle of the unencumbered track. As he drew near it looked
like a great stone. He swerved as he passed it, and, looking, saw that
it was a bundle wrapped in a striped blanket. It seemed so odd that it
should be lying there that, his curiosity being aroused, he pulled up
and walked back a few yards to examine it. The nearer he approached the
less did it resemble an ordinary bundle. He bent down, and lo! between
the folds of the blanket peeped the face of a sleeping child.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" cried Aristide. "_Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_"

He ought not to have said it, but his astonishment was great. He stared
at the baby, then up and down the road, then swept the horizon. Not a
soul was visible. How did the baby get there? The heavens, according to
history, have rained many things in their time: bread, quails, blood,
frogs, and what not; but there is no mention of them ever having rained
babies. It could not, therefore, have come from the clouds. It could not
even have fallen from the tail of a cart, for then it would have been
killed, or at least have broken its bones and generally been rendered a
different baby from the sound, chubby mite sleeping as peacefully as
though the Golgotha of Provence had been its cradle from birth. It could
not have come there accidentally. Deliberate hands had laid it down; in
the centre of the road, too. Why not by the side, where it would have
been out of the track of thundering automobiles? When the murderous
intent became obvious Aristide shivered and felt sick. He breathed
fierce and honest anathema on the heads of the bowelless fiends who had
abandoned the babe to its doom. Then he stooped and picked up the bundle
tenderly in his arms.

The wee face puckered for a moment and the wee limbs shot out
vigorously; then the dark eyes opened and stared Aristide solemnly and
wonderingly in the face. So must the infant Remus have first regarded
his she-wolf mother. Having ascertained, however, that it was not going
to be devoured, it began to cry lustily, showing two little white specks
of teeth in the lower gum.

"_Mon pauvre petit_, you are hungry," said Aristide, carrying it to the
car racked by the clattering engine. "I wonder when you last tasted
food? If I only had a little biscuit and wine to give you; but, alas!
there's nothing but petrol and corn-cure, neither of which, I believe,
is good for babies. Wait, wait, _mon chèri_, until we get to Salon.
There I promise you proper nourishment."

He danced the baby up and down in his arms and made half-remembered and
insane noises, which eventually had the effect of reducing it to its
original calm stare of wonderment.

"_Voilà_," said Aristide, delighted. "Now we can advance."

He deposited it on the vacant seat, clambered up behind the wheel, and
started. But not at the break-neck speed of twenty miles an hour. He
went slowly and carefully, his heart in his mouth at every lurch of the
afflicted automobile, fearful lest the child should be precipitated from
its slippery resting-place. But, alas! he did not proceed far. At the
end of a kilometre the engine stopped dead. He leaped out to see what
had happened, and, after a few perplexed and exhausting moments,
remembered. He had not even petrol to offer to the baby, having
omitted--most feather-headed of mortals--to fill up his tank before
starting, and forgotten to bring a spare tin. There was nothing to be
done save wait patiently until another motorist should pass by from whom
he might purchase the necessary amount of essence to carry him on to
Salon. Meanwhile the baby would go breakfastless. Aristide clambered
back to his seat, took the child on his knees, and commiserated it
profoundly. Sitting there on his apparently home-made vehicle, in the
midst of the unearthly silence of the sullen and barren wilderness,
attired in his shaggy goat-skin cap and coat, he resembled an up-to-date
Robinson Crusoe dandling an infant Friday.

The disposal of the child at Salon would be simple. After having it fed
and tended at an hotel, he would make his deposition to the police, who
would take it to the Enfants Trouvés, the department of State which
provides fathers and mothers and happy homes for foundlings at a cost to
the country of twenty-five francs a month per foundling. It is true that
the parents so provided think more of the twenty-five francs than they
do of the foundling. But that was the affair of the State, not of
Aristide Pujol. In the meanwhile he examined the brat curiously. It was
dressed in a coarse calico jumper, very unclean. The striped blanket was
full of holes and smelled abominably. Some sort of toilet appeared
essential. He got down and from his valise took what seemed necessary to
the purpose. The jumper and blanket he threw far on the pebbly waste.
The baby, stark naked for a few moments, crowed and laughed and
stretched like a young animal, revealing itself to be a sturdy boy about
nine months old. When he seemed fit to be clad Aristide tied him up in
the lower part of a suit of pyjamas, cutting little holes in the sides
for his tiny arms; and, further, with a view to cheating his hunger,
provided him with a shoe-horn. The defenceless little head he managed to
squeeze into the split mouth of a woollen sock. Aristide regarded him in
triumph. The boy chuckled gleefully. Then Aristide folded him warm in
his travelling-rug and entered into an animated conversation.

Now it happened that, at the most interesting point of the talk, the
baby clutched Aristide's finger in his little brown hand. The tiny
fingers clung strong.

A queer thrill ran through the impressionable man. The tiny fingers
seemed to close round his heart.... It was a bonny, good-natured,
gurgling scrap--and the pure eyes looked truthfully into his soul.

"Poor little wretch!" said Aristide, who, peasant's son that he was,
knew what he was talking about. "Poor little wretch! If you go into the
Enfants Trouvés you'll have a devil of a time of it."

The tiny clasp tightened. As if the babe understood, the chuckle died
from his face.

"You'll be cuffed and kicked and half starved, while your adopted mother
pockets her twenty-five francs a month, and you'll belong to nobody, and
wonder why the deuce you're alive, and wish you were dead; and, if you
remember to-day, you'll curse me for not having had the decency to run
over you."

The clasp relaxed, puckers appeared at the corners of the dribbling
mouth, and a myriad tiny horizontal lines of care marked the sock-capped
brow.

"Poor little devil!" said Aristide. "My heart bleeds for you, especially
now that you're dressed in my sock and pyjama, and are sucking the only
shoe-horn I ever possessed."

A welcome sound caused Aristide to leap into the middle of the road. He
looked ahead, and there, in a cloud of dust, a thing like a torpedo came
swooping down. He held up both his arms, the signal of a motorist in
distress. The torpedo approached with slackened speed, and stopped. It
was an evil-looking, drab, high-powered racer, and two bears with
goggles sat in the midst thereof. The bear at the wheel raised his cap
and asked courteously:--

"What can we do for you, monsieur?"

At that moment the baby broke into heart-rending cries. Aristide took
off his goat-skin cap and, remaining uncovered, looked at the bear, then
at the baby, then at the bear again.

"Monsieur," said he, "I suppose it's useless to ask you whether you have
any milk and a feeding-bottle?"

"_Mais dites donc!_" shouted the bear, furiously, his hand on the brake.
"Stop an automobile like this on such a pretext----?"

Aristide held up a protesting hand, and fixed the bear with the
irresistible roguery of his eyes.

"Pardon, monsieur, I am also out of petrol. Forgive a father's feelings.
The baby wants milk and I want petrol, and I don't know whose need is
the more imperative. But if you could sell me enough petrol to carry me
to Salon I should be most grateful."

The request for petrol is not to be refused. To supply it, if possible,
is the written law of motordom. The second bear slid from his seat and
extracted a tin from the recesses of the torpedo, and stood by while
Aristide filled his tank, a process that necessitated laying the baby on
the ground. He smiled.

"You seem amused," said Aristide.

"_Parbleu!_" said the motorist. "You have at the back of your auto a
placard telling people to cure their corns, and in front you carry a
baby."

"That," replied Aristide, "is easily understood. I am the agent of the
Maison Hiéropath of Marseilles, and the baby, whom I, its father, am
carrying from a dead mother to an invalid aunt, I am using as an
advertisement. As he luckily has no corns, I can exhibit his feet as a
proof of the efficacy of the corn-cure."

The bear laughed and joined his companion, and the torpedo thundered
away. Aristide replaced the baby, and with a complicated arrangement of
string fastened it securely to the seat. The baby, having ceased crying,
clutched his beard as he bent over, and "goo'd" pleasantly. The tug was
at his heart-strings. How could he give so fascinating, so valiant a
mite over to the Enfants Trouvés? Besides, it belonged to him. Had he
not in jest claimed paternity? It had given him a new importance. He
could say "_mon fils_," just as he could say (with equal veracity) "_mon
automobile_." A generous thrill ran through him. He burst into a loud
laugh, clapped his hands, and danced before the delighted babe.

"_Mon petit Jean_," said he, with humorous tenderness, "for I suppose
your name is Jean; I will rend myself in pieces before I let the
Administration board you out among the wolves. You shall not go to the
Enfants Trouvés. I myself will adopt you, _mon petit Jean_."

As Aristide had no fixed abode whatever, the address on his
visiting-card, "213 bis, Rue Saint-Honoré, Paris," being that of an old
greengrocer woman of his acquaintance, with whom he lodged when he
visited the metropolis, there was a certain amount of rashness in the
undertaking. But when was Aristide otherwise than rash? Had prudence
been his guiding principle through life he would not have been selling
corn-cure for the Maison Hiéropath, and consequently would not have
discovered the child at all.

In great delight at this satisfactory settlement of little Jean's
destiny, he started the ramshackle engine and drove triumphantly on his
way. Jean, fatigued by the emotions of the last half-hour, slumbered
peacefully.

"The little angel!" said Aristide.

The sun was shining when they arrived at Salon, the gayest, the most
coquettish, the most laughing little town in Provence. It is a place all
trees and open spaces, and fountains and cafés, and sauntering people.
The only thing grim about it is the solitary machicolated tower in the
main street, the last vestige of ancient ramparts; and even that, close
cuddled on each side by prosperous houses with shops beneath, looks
like an old, old, wrinkled grandmother smiling amid her daintier
grandchildren. Everyone seemed to be in the open air. Those who kept
shops stood at the doorways. The prospect augured well for the Maison
Hiéropath.

Aristide stopped before an hotel, disentangled Jean, to the mild
interest of the passers-by, and, carrying him in, delivered him into the
arms of the landlady.

"Madame," he said, "this is my son. I am taking him from his mother, who
is dead, to an aunt who is an invalid. So he is alone on my hands. He is
very hungry, and I beseech you to feed him at once."

The motherly woman received the babe instinctively and cast aside the
travelling-rug in which he was enveloped. Then she nearly dropped him.

"_Mon Dieu! Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?_"

She stared in stupefaction at the stocking-cap and at the long flannel
pyjama legs that depended from the body of the infant, around whose
neck the waist was tightly drawn. Never since the world began had babe
masqueraded in such attire. Aristide smiled his most engaging smile.

"My son's luggage has unfortunately been lost. His portmanteau, _pauvre
petit_, was so small. A poor widower, I did what I could. I am but a
mere man, madame."

"Evidently," said the woman, with some asperity.

Aristide took a louis from his purse. "If you will purchase him some
necessary articles of costume while I fulfil my duties towards the
Maison Hiéropath of Marseilles, which I represent, you will be doing me
a kindness."

The landlady took the louis in a bewildered fashion. Allowing for the
baby's portmanteau to have gone astray, what, she asked, had become
of the clothes he must have been wearing? Aristide entered upon a
picturesque and realistic explanation. The landlady was stout, she was
stupid, she could not grasp the fantastic.

"_Mon Dieu!_" she said. "To think that there are Christians who dress
their children like this!" She sighed exhaustively, and, holding the
grotesque infant close to her breast, disappeared indignantly to
administer the very greatly needed motherment.

 [Illustration: HE DEMONSTRATED THE PROPER APPLICATION OF THE CURE]

Aristide breathed a sigh of relief, and after a well-earned _déjeuner_
went forth with the car into the Place des Arbres and prepared to ply
his trade. First he unfurled the Hiéropath banner, which floated
proudly in the breeze. Then on a folding table he displayed his
collection of ointment-boxes (together with pills and a toothache-killer
which he sold on his own account) and a wax model of a human foot on
which were grafted putty corns in every stage of callosity. As soon as
half-a-dozen idlers collected he commenced his harangue. When their
numbers increased he performed prodigies of chiropody on the putty
corns, and demonstrated the proper application of the cure. He talked
incessantly all the while. He has told me, in the grand manner, that
this phase of his career was distasteful to him. But I scarcely believe
it. If ever a man loved to talk, it was Aristide Pujol; and what
profession, save that of an advocate, offers more occasion for wheedling
loquacity than that of a public vendor of quack medicaments? As a matter
of fact, he revelled in it. When he offered a free box of the cure to
the first lady who confessed the need thereof, and a blushing wench came
forward, the rascal revelled in the opportunity for badinage which set
the good-humoured crowd in a roar. He loved to exert his half-mesmeric
power. He had not the soul of a mountebank, for Aristide's soul had its
high and generous dwelling-place; but he had the puckish swiftness and
mischief of which the successful mountebank is made. And he was a
success because he treated it as an art, thinking nothing during its
practice of the material gain, laughing whole-heartedly, like his great
predecessor Tabarin of imperishable memory, and satisfying to the full
his instinct for the dramatic. On the other hand, ever since he started
life in the brass-buttoned shell-jacket of a _chasseur_ in a Marseilles
café, and dreamed dreams of the fairytale lives of the clients who
came in accompanied by beautifully dressed ladies, he had social
ambitions--and the social status of the mountebank is, to say the least
of it, ambiguous. Ah me! What would man be without the unattainable?

Aristide pocketed his takings, struck his flag, dismantled his table,
and visited the shops of Salon in the interests of the Maison Hiéropath.
The day's work over, he returned to inquire for his supposititious
offspring. The landlady, all smiles, presented him with a transmogrified
Jean, cleansed and powdered, arrayed in the smug panoply of bourgeois
babyhood. Shoes with a pompon adorned his feet, and a rakish cap
decorated with white satin ribbons crowned his head. He also wore an
embroidered frock and a pelisse trimmed with rabbit-fur. Jean grinned
and dribbled self-consciously, and showed his two little teeth to the
proudest father in the world. The landlady invited the happy parent into
her little dark parlour beyond the office, and there exhibited a parcel
containing garments and implements whose use was a mystery to Aristide.
She also demanded the greater part of another louis. Aristide began to
learn that fatherhood is expensive. But what did it matter?

After all, here was a babe equipped to face the exigencies of a
censorious world; in looks and apparel a credit to any father. As the
afternoon was fine, and as it seemed a pity to waste satin and
rabbit-fur on the murky interior of the hotel, Aristide borrowed a
perambulator from the landlady, and, joyous as a schoolboy, wheeled the
splendid infant through the sunny avenues of Salon.

That evening a bed was made up for the child in Aristide's room, which,
until its master retired for the night, was haunted by the landlady, the
chambermaids and all the kitchen wenches in the hotel. Aristide had to
turn them out and lock his door.

"This is excellent," said he, apostrophizing the thoroughly fed, washed,
and now sleeping child. "This is superb. As in every hotel there are
women, and as every woman thinks she can be a much better mother than I,
so in every hotel we visit we shall find a staff of trained and
enthusiastic nurses. Jean, you will live like a little _coq en pâté_."

The night passed amid various excursions on the part of Aristide and
alarms on the part of Jean. Sometimes the child lay so still that
Aristide arose to see whether he was alive. Sometimes he gave such
proofs of vitality that Aristide, in terror lest he should awaken the
whole hotel, walked him about the room chanting lullabies. This was in
accordance with Jean's views on luxury. He "goo'd" with joy. When
Aristide put him back to bed he howled. Aristide snatched him up and
he "goo'd" again. At last Aristide fed him desperately, dandled him
eventually to sleep, and returned to an excited pillow. It is a fearsome
thing for a man to be left alone in the dead of night with a young baby.

"I'll get used to it," said Aristide.

The next morning he purchased a basket, which he lashed ingeniously on
the left-hand seat of the car, and a cushion, which he fitted into the
basket. The berth prepared, he deposited the sumptuously-apparelled Jean
therein and drove away, amid the perplexed benisons of the landlady and
her satellites.

Thus began the oddest Odyssey on which ever mortals embarked. The man
with the automobile, the corn-cure, and the baby grew to be legendary in
the villages of Provence. When the days were fine, Jean in his basket
assisted at the dramatic performance in the market-place. Becoming a
magnet for the women, and being of a good-humoured and rollicking
nature, he helped on the sale of the cure prodigiously. He earned his
keep, as Aristide declared in exultation. Soon Aristide formed a
collection of his tricks and doings wherewith he would entertain the
chance acquaintances of his vagabondage. To a permanent companion he
would have grown insufferable. He invented him a career from the day of
his birth, chronicled the coming of the first tooth, wept over the
demise of the fictitious mother, and, in his imaginative way, convinced
himself of his fatherhood. And every day the child crept deeper into the
man's sunny heart.

 [Illustration: IT IS A FEARSOME THING FOR A MAN TO BE LEFT ALONE IN THE
                DEAD OF NIGHT WITH A YOUNG BABY]

Together they had many wanderings and many adventures. The wheezy, crazy
mechanism of the car went to bits in unexpected places. They tobogganed
down hills without a brake at the imminent peril of their lives. They
suffered the indignity of being towed by wine-wagons. They spent hours
by the wayside while Aristide took her to pieces and, sometimes with the
help of a passing motorist, put her together again. Sometimes, too, an
inn boasted no landlady, only a dishevelled and over-driven chambermaid,
who refused to wash Jean. Aristide washed and powdered Jean himself, the
landlord lounging by, pipe in mouth, administering suggestions. Once
Jean grew ill, and Aristide in terror summoned the doctor, who told him
that he had filled the child up with milk to bursting-point. Yet, in
spite of heterogeneous nursing and exposure to sun and rain and piercing
mistral, Jean throve exceedingly, and, to Aristide's delight, began to
cut another tooth. The vain man began to regard himself as an expert in
denticulture.

At the end of a fairly-wide circuit, Aristide, with empty store-boxes
and pleasantly-full pockets, arrived at the little town of
Aix-en-Provence. He had arrived there not without difficulty. On the
outskirts the car, which had been coaxed reluctantly along for many
weary kilometres, had groaned, rattled, whirred, given a couple of
convulsive leaps, and stood stock-still. This was one of her pretty
ways. He was used to them, and hitherto he had been able to wheedle
her into resumed motion. But this time, with all his cunning and
perspiration, he could not induce another throb in the tired engines.
A friendly motorist towed them to the Hôtel de Paris in the Cours
Mirabeau. Having arranged for his room and given Jean in charge of the
landlady, he procured some helping hands, and pushed the car to the
nearest garage. There he gave orders for the car to be put into running
condition for the following morning, and returned to the hotel.

He found Jean in the vestibule, sprawling sultanesquely on the
landlady's lap, the centre of an admiring circle which consisted of two
little girls in pigtails, an ancient peasant-woman, and two English
ladies of obvious but graceful spinsterhood.

"Here is the father," said the landlady.

He had already explained Jean to the startled woman--landladies were
always startled at Jean's unconventional advent. "Madame," he had said,
according to rigid formula, "this is my son. I am taking him from his
mother, who is dead, to an aunt who is an invalid, so he is alone on my
hands. I beseech you to let some kind woman attend to his necessities."

There was no need for further explanation. Aristide, thus introduced,
bowed politely, removed his Crusoe cap, and smiled luminously at the
assembled women. They resumed their antiphonal chorus of worship. The
brown, merry, friendly brat had something of Aristide's personal charm.
He had a bubble and a "goo" for everyone. Aristide looked on in great
delight. Jean was a son to be proud of.

"_Ah! qu'il est fort--fort comme un Turc._"

"_Regardez ses dents._"

"The darling thing!"

"_Il est_--oh, dear!--_il est ravissante!_"--with a disastrous plunge
into gender.

"_Tiens! il rit. C'est moi qui le fais rire._"

"To think," said the younger Englishwoman to her sister, "of this wee
mite travelling about in an open motor!"

"He's having the time of his life. He enjoys it as much as I do," said
Aristide, in his excellent English.

The lady started. She was a well-bred, good-humoured woman in the early
thirties, stout, with reddish hair, and irregular though comely
features. Her sister was thin, faded, sandy, and kind-looking.

"I thought you were French," she said, apologetically.

"So I am," replied Aristide. "Provençal of Provence, Méridional of the
Midi, Marseillais of Marseilles."

"But you talk English perfectly."

"I've lived in your beautiful country," said Aristide.

"You have the bonniest boy," said the elder lady. "How old is he?"

"Nine months, three weeks and a day," said Aristide, promptly.

The younger lady bent over the miraculous infant.

"Can I take him? _Est-ce que je puis_--oh, dear!" She turned a whimsical
face to Aristide.

He translated. The landlady surrendered the babe. The lady danced him
with the spinster's charming awkwardness, yet with instinctive feminine
security, about the hall, while the little girls in pigtails, daughters
of the house, followed like adoratory angels in an altar-piece, and the
old peasant-woman looked benignly on, a myriad-wrinkled St. Elizabeth.
Aristide had seen Jean dandled by dozens of women during their brief
comradeship; he had thought little of it, as it was the natural thing
for women to do; but when this sweet English lady mothered Jean it
seemed to matter a great deal. She lifted Jean and himself to a higher
plane. Her touch was a consecration.

It was the hour of the day when infants of nine months should be washed
and put to bed. The landlady, announcing the fact, held out her arms.
Jean clung to his English nurse, who played the fascinating game of
pretending to eat his hand. The landlady had not that accomplishment.
She was dull and practical.

"Come and be washed," she said.

"Oh, do let me come, too," cried the English lady.

"_Bien volontiers, mademoiselle_," said the other. "_C'est par ici._"

The English lady held Jean out for the paternal good-night. Aristide
kissed the child in her arms. The action brought about, for the moment,
a curious and sweet intimacy.

"My sister is passionately fond of children," said the elder lady, in
smiling apology.

"And you?"

"I, too. But Anne--my sister--will not let me have a chance when she is
by."

After dinner Aristide went up, as usual, to his room to see that Jean
was alive, painless, and asleep. Finding him awake, he sat by his side
and, with the earnestness of a nursery-maid, patted him off to slumber.
Then he crept out on tiptoe and went downstairs. Outside the hotel he
came upon the two sisters sitting on a bench and drinking coffee. The
night was fine, the terraces of the neighbouring cafés were filled with
people, and all the life of Aix not at the cafés promenaded up and down
the wide and pleasant avenue. The ladies smiled. How was the boy? He
gave the latest news. Permission to join them at their coffee was
graciously given. A waiter brought a chair and he sat down. Conversation
drifted from the baby to general topics. The ladies told the simple
story of their tour. They had been to Nice and Marseilles, and they were
going on the next day to Avignon. They also told their name--Honeywood.
He gathered that the elder was Janet, the younger Anne. They lived at
Chislehurst when they were in England, and often came up to London to
attend the Queen's Hall concerts and the dramatic performances at His
Majesty's Theatre. As guileless, though as self-reliant, gentlewomen
as sequestered England could produce. Aristide, impressionable and
responsive, fell at once into the key of their talk. He has told me that
their society produced on him the effect of the cool hands of saints
against his cheek.

At last the conversation inevitably returned to Jean. The landlady had
related the tragic history of the dead mother and the invalid aunt. They
deplored the orphaned state of the precious babe. For he was precious,
they declared. Miss Anne had taken him to her heart.

"If only you had seen him in his bath, Janet!"

She turned to Aristide. "I'm afraid," she said, very softly, hesitating
a little--"I'm afraid this must be a sad journey for you."

He made a wry mouth. The sympathy was so sincere, so womanly. That which
was generous in him revolted against acceptance.

"Mademoiselle," said he, "I can play a farce with landladies--it happens
to be convenient--in fact, necessary. But with you--no. You are
different. Jean is not my child, and who his parents are I've not the
remotest idea."

"Not your child?" They looked at him incredulously.

"I will tell you--in confidence," said he.

Jean's history was related in all its picturesque details; the horrors
of the life of an _enfant trouvé_ luridly depicted. The sisters listened
with tears in their foolish eyes. Behind the tears Anne's grew bright.
When he had finished she stretched out her hand impulsively.

"Oh, I call it splendid of you!"

He took the hand and, in his graceful French fashion, touched it with
his lips. She flushed, having expected, in her English way, that he
would grasp it.

"Your commendation, mademoiselle, is sweet to hear," said he.

"I hope he will grow up to be a true comfort to you, M. Pujol," said
Miss Janet.

"I can understand a woman doing what you've done, but scarcely a man,"
said Miss Anne.

"But, dear mademoiselle," cried Aristide, with a large gesture, "cannot
a man have his heart touched, his--his--_ses entrailles, enfin_--stirred
by baby fingers? Why should love of the helpless and the innocent be
denied him?"

"Why, indeed?" said Miss Janet.

Miss Anne said, humbly: "I only meant that your devotion to Jean was all
the more beautiful, M. Pujol."

Soon after this they parted, the night air having grown chill. Both
ladies shook hands with him warmly.

Anne's hand lingered the fraction of a second longer in his than
Janet's. She had seen Jean in his bath.

Aristide wandered down the gay avenue into the open road and looked at
the stars, reading in their splendour a brilliant destiny for Jean. He
felt, in his sensitive way, that the two sweet-souled Englishwomen had
deepened and sanctified his love for Jean. When he returned to the hotel
he kissed his incongruous room-mate with the gentleness of a woman.

In the morning he went round to the garage. The foreman mechanician
advanced to meet him.

"Well?"

"There is nothing to be done, monsieur."

"What do you mean by 'nothing to be done'?" asked Aristide.

The other shrugged his sturdy shoulders.

"She is worn out. She needs new carburation, new cylinders, new
water-circulation, new lubrication, new valves, new brakes, new
ignition, new gears, new bolts, new nuts, new everything. In short, she
is not repairable."

Aristide listened in incredulous amazement. His automobile, his
wonderful, beautiful, clashing, dashing automobile unrepairable! It was
impossible. But a quarter of an hour's demonstration by the foreman
convinced him. The car was dead. The engine would never whir again. All
the petrol in the world would not stimulate her into life. Never again
would he sit behind that wheel rejoicing in the insolence of speed. The
car, which, in spite of her manifold infirmities, he had fondly imagined
to be immortal, had run her last course. Aristide felt faint.

"And there is nothing to be done?"

"Nothing, monsieur. Fifty francs is all that she is worth."

"At any rate," said Aristide, "send the basket to the Hôtel de Paris."

He went out of the garage like a man in a dream. At the door he turned
to take a last look at the Pride of his Life. Her stern was towards him,
and all he saw of her was the ironical legend, "Cure your Corns."

At the hotel he found the bench outside occupied chiefly by Jean. One
of the little girls in pigtails was holding him, while Miss Anne
administered the feeding-bottle. Provincial France is the happiest
country in the world--in that you can live your intimate, domestic life
in public, and nobody heeds.

"I hope you've not come to tell Jean to boot and saddle," said Miss
Anne, a smile on her roughly-hewn, comely face.

"Alas!" said Aristide, cheered by the charming spectacle before him. "I
don't know when we can get away. My auto has broken down hopelessly. I
ought to go at once to my firm in Marseilles"--he spoke as if he were a
partner in the Maison Hiéropath--"but I don't quite know what to do with
Jean."

"Oh, I'll look after Jean."

"But you said you were leaving for Avignon to-day."

 [Illustration: ONE OF THE LITTLE GIRLS IN PIGTAILS WAS HOLDING HIM,
                WHILE MISS ANNE ADMINISTERED THE FEEDING-BOTTLE]

She laughed, holding the feeding-bottle. "The Palace of the Popes has
been standing for six centuries, and it will be still standing
to-morrow; whereas Jean----" Here Jean, for some reason known to
himself, grinned wet and wide. "Isn't he the most fascinating thing of
the twentieth century?" she cried, logically inconsequential, like most
of her sex. "You go to Marseilles, M. Pujol."

So Aristide took the train to Marseilles--a half-hour's journey--and in
a quarter of the city resembling a fusion of Jarrow, an unfashionable
part of St. Louis, and a brimstone-manufacturing suburb of Gehenna, he
interviewed the high authorities of the Maison Hiéropath. His cajolery
could lead men into diverse lunacies, but it could not induce the
hard-bitten manufacturer of quack remedies to provide a brand-new
automobile for his personal convenience. The old auto had broken down.
The manufacturer shrugged his shoulders. The mystery was that it had
lasted as long as it did. He had expected it to explode the first
day. The idea had originally been that of the junior partner, a
scatter-brained youth whom at times they humoured. Meanwhile, there
being no beplacarded and beflagged automobile, there could be no
advertisement; therefore they had no further use for M. Pujol's
services.

"Good," said Aristide, when he reached the evil thoroughfare. "It was a
degraded occupation, and I am glad I am out of it. Meanwhile, here is
Marseilles before me, and it will be astonishing if I do not find some
fresh road to fortune before the day is out."

Aristide tramped and tramped all day through the streets of Marseilles,
but the road he sought he did not find. He returned to Aix in dire
perplexity. He was used to finding himself suddenly cut off from the
means of livelihood. It was his chronic state of being. His gay
resourcefulness had always carried him through. But then there had been
only himself to think of. Now there was Jean. For the first time for
many years the dragon-fly's wings grew limp. Jean--what could he do with
Jean?

Jean had already gone to sleep when he arrived. All day he had been as
good as gold, so Miss Anne declared. For herself, she had spent the
happiest day of her life.

"I don't wonder at your being devoted to him, M. Pujol," she said. "He
has the most loving ways of any baby I ever met."

"Yes, mademoiselle," replied Aristide, with an unaccustomed huskiness in
his voice, "I am devoted to him. It may seem odd for a man to be wrapped
up in a baby of nine months old--but--it's like that. It's true. _Je
l'adore de tout mon coeur, de tout mon être_," he cried, in a sudden
gust of passion.

Miss Anne smiled kindly, not dreaming of his perplexity, amused by his
Southern warmth. Miss Janet joined them in the hall. They went in to
dinner, Aristide sitting at the central _table d'hôte_, the ladies at a
little table by themselves. After dinner they met again outside the
hotel, and drank coffee and talked the evening away. He was not as
bright a companion as on the night before. His gaiety was forced. He
talked about everything else in the world but Jean. The temptation to
pour his financial troubles into the sympathetic ears of these two dear
women he resisted. They regarded him as on a social equality, as a man
of means engaged in some sort of business at Marseilles; they had
invited him to bring Jean to see them at Chislehurst when he should
happen to be in England again. Pride forbade him to confess himself a
homeless, penniless vagabond. The exquisite charm of their frank
intimacy would be broken. Besides, what could they do?

They retired early. Aristide again sought the message of the stars; but
the sky was clouded over, and soon a fine rain began to fall. A bock at
a café brought him neither comfort nor inspiration. He returned to the
hotel, and, eluding a gossip-seeking landlady, went up to his room.

What could be done? Neither the sleeping babe nor himself could offer
any suggestion. One thing was grimly inevitable. He and Jean must part.
To carry him about like an infant prince in an automobile had, after
all, been a simple matter; to drag him through Heaven knew what
hardships in his makeshift existence was impossible. In his childlike,
impulsive fashion he had not thought of the future when he adopted Jean.
Aristide always regarded the fortune of the moment as if it would last
forever. Past deceptions never affected his incurable optimism. Now Jean
and he must part. Aristide felt that the end of the world had come. His
pacing to and fro awoke the child, who demanded, in his own way, the
soothing rocking of his father's arms. There he bubbled and "goo'd" till
Aristide's heart nearly broke.

"What can I do with you, _mon petit Jean_?"

The Enfants Trouvés, after all? He thought of it with a shudder.

The child asleep again, he laid it on its bed, and then sat far into the
night thinking barrenly. At last one of his sudden gleams of inspiration
illuminated his mind. It was the only way. He took out his watch. It was
four o'clock. What had to be done must be done swiftly.

In the travelling-basket, which had been sent from the garage, he placed
a pillow, and on to the pillow he transferred with breathless care the
sleeping Jean, and wrapped him up snug and warm in bedclothes. Then he
folded the tiny day-garments that lay on a chair, collected the little
odds and ends belonging to the child, took from his valise the rest of
Jean's little wardrobe, and laid them at the foot of the basket. The
most miserable man in France then counted up his money, divided it into
two parts, and wrote a hasty letter, which, with the bundle of notes, he
enclosed in an envelope.

"My little Jean," said he, laying the envelope on the child's breast.
"Here is a little more than half my fortune. Half is for yourself and
the little more to pay your wretched father's hotel bill. Good-bye, my
little Jean. _Je t'aime bien, tu sais_--and don't reproach me."

       *       *       *       *       *

About an hour afterwards Miss Anne awoke and listened, and in a moment
or two Miss Janet awoke also.

"Janet, do you hear that?"

"It's a child crying. It's just outside the door."

"It sounds like Jean."

"Nonsense, my dear!"

But Anne switched on the light and went to see for herself; and there,
in the tiny anteroom that separated the bedroom from the corridor, she
found the basket--a new Pharoah's daughter before a new little Moses in
the bulrushes. In bewilderment she brought the ark into the room, and
read the letter addressed to Janet and herself. She burst into tears.
All she said was:--

"Oh, Janet, why couldn't he have told us?"

And then she fell to hugging the child to her bosom.

Meanwhile Aristide Pujol, clad in his goat-skin cap and coat, valise in
hand, was plodding through the rain in search of the elusive phantom,
Fortune; gloriously certain that he had assured Jean's future, yet with
such a heartache as he had never had in his life before.



V

THE ADVENTURE OF THE PIG'S HEAD


Once upon a time Aristide Pujol found himself standing outside his Paris
residence, No. 213 _bis_, Rue Saint Honoré, without a penny in the
world. His last sou had gone to Madame Bidoux, who kept a small green
grocer's shop at No. 213 _bis_ and rented a ridiculously small back room
for a ridiculously small weekly sum to Aristide whenever he honoured the
French capital with his presence. During his absence she forwarded him
such letters as might arrive for him; and as this was his only permanent
address, and as he let Madame Bidoux know his whereabouts only at vague
intervals of time, the transaction of business with Aristide Pujol,
"Agent, No. 213 _bis_, Rue Saint Honoré, Paris," by correspondence was
peculiarly difficult.

He had made Madame Bidoux's acquaintance in the dim past; and he had
made it in his usual direct and electric manner. Happening to walk down
the Rue Saint Honoré, he had come upon tragedy. Madame Bidoux, fat, red
of face, tearful of eye and strident of voice, held in her arms a
little mongrel dog--her own precious possession--which had just been run
over in the street, and the two of them filled the air with wailings and
vociferation. Aristide uncovered his head, as though he were about to
address a duchess, and smiled at her engagingly.

"Madame," said he, "I perceive that your little dog has a broken leg. As
I know all about dogs, I will, with your permission, set the limb, put
it into splints and guarantee a perfect cure. Needless to say, I make no
charge for my services."

Snatching the dog from the arms of the fascinated woman, he darted in
his dragon-fly fashion into the shop, gave a hundred orders to a
stupefied assistant, and--to cut short a story which Aristide told me
with great wealth of detail--mended the precious dog and gained Madame
Bidoux's eternal gratitude. For Madame Bidoux the world held no more
remarkable man than Aristide Pujol; and for Aristide the world held no
more devoted friend than Madame Bidoux. Many a succulent meal, at the
widow's expense--never more enjoyable than in summer time when she set a
little iron table and a couple of iron chairs on the pavement outside
the shop--had saved him from starvation; and many a gewgaw sent from
London or Marseilles or other such remote latitudes filled her heart
with pride. Since my acquaintance with Aristide I myself have called on
this excellent woman, and I hope I have won her esteem, though I have
never had the honour of eating pig's trotters and chou-croûte with her
on the pavement of the Rue Saint Honoré. It is an honour from which,
being an unassuming man, I shrink.

Unfortunately Madame Bidoux has nothing further to do with the story I
am about to relate, save in one respect:--

There came a day--it was a bleak day in November, when Madame Bidoux's
temporary financial difficulties happened to coincide with Aristide's.
To him, unsuspicious of coincidence, she confided her troubles. He
emptied the meagre contents of his purse into her hand.

"Madame Bidoux," said he with a flourish, and the air of a prince, "why
didn't you tell me before?" and without waiting for her blessing he went
out penniless into the street.

Aristide was never happier than when he had not a penny piece in the
world. He believed, I fancy, in a dim sort of way, in God and the Virgin
and Holy Water and the Pope; but the faith that thrilled him to
exaltation was his faith in the inevitable happening of the unexpected.
He marched to meet it with the throbbing pulses of a soldier rushing to
victory or a saint to martyrdom. He walked up the Rue Saint Honoré, the
Rue de la Paix, along the Grands Boulevards, smiling on a world which
teemed with unexpectednesses, until he reached a café on the Boulevard
des Bonnes Filles de Calvaire. Here he was arrested by Fate, in the form
of a battered man in black, who, springing from the solitary frostiness
of the terrace, threw his arms about him and kissed him on both cheeks.

"_Mais, c'est toi, Pujol!_"

"_C'est toi, Roulard!_"

Roulard dragged Aristide to his frosty table and ordered drinks. Roulard
had played the trumpet in the regimental band in which Aristide had
played the kettle drum. During their military service they had been
inseparables. Since those happy and ear-splitting days they had not met.
They looked at each other and laughed and thumped each other's
shoulders.

"_Ce vieux Roulard!_"

"_Ce sacré Pujol._"

"And what are you doing?" asked Aristide, after the first explosions of
astonishment and reminiscence.

A cloud overspread the battered man's features. He had a wife and five
children and played in theatre orchestras. At the present time he was
trombone in the "Tournée Gulland," a touring opera company. It was not
gay for a sensitive artist like him, and the trombone gave one a thirst
which it took half a week's salary to satisfy. _Mais enfin, que
veux-tu?_ It was life, a dog's life, but life was like that. Aristide,
he supposed, was making a fortune. Aristide threw back his head, and
laughed at the exquisite humour of the hypothesis, and gaily disclosed
his Micawberish situation. Roulard sat for a while thoughtful and
silent. Presently a ray of inspiration dispelled the cloud from the
features of the battered man.

"_Tiens, mon vieux_," said he, "I have an idea."

It was an idea worthy of Aristide's consideration. The drum of the
Tournée Gulland had been dismissed for drunkenness. The vacancy had not
been filled. Various executants who had drummed on approval--this being
an out-week of the tour--had driven the chef d'orchestre to the verge of
homicidal mania. Why should not Aristide, past master in drumming, find
an honourable position in the orchestra of the Tournée Gulland?

Aristide's eyes sparkled, his fingers itched for the drumsticks, he
started to his feet.

"_Mon vieux Roulard!_" he cried, "you have saved my life. More than
that, you have resuscitated an artist. Yes, an artist. _Sacré nom de
Dieu!_ Take me to this chef d'orchestre."

So Roulard, when the hour of rehearsal drew nigh, conducted Aristide to
the murky recesses of a dirty little theatre in the Batignolles, where
Aristide performed such prodigies of repercussion that he was forthwith
engaged to play the drum, the kettle-drum, the triangle, the cymbals,
the castagnettes and the tambourine, in the orchestra of the Tournée
Gulland at the dazzling salary of thirty francs a week.

To tell how Aristide drummed and cymballed the progress of Les
Huguenots, Carmen, La Juive, La Fille de Madame Angot and L'Arlésienne
through France would mean the rewriting of a "Capitaine Fracasse." To
hear the creature talk about it makes my mouth as a brick kiln and my
flesh as that of a goose. He was the Adonis, the Apollo, the Don Juan,
the Irresistible of the Tournée. Fled truculent bass and haughty tenor
before him; from diva to moustachioed contralto in the chorus, all the
ladies breathlessly watched for the fall of his handkerchief; he was
recognized, in fact, as a devil of a fellow. But in spite of these
triumphs, the manipulation of the drum, kettle-drum, triangle, cymbals,
castagnettes and tambourine, which at first had given him intense and
childish delight, at last became invested with a mechanical monotony
that almost drove him mad. All day long the thought of the ill-lit
corner, on the extreme right of the orchestra, garnished with the
accursed instruments of noise to which duty would compel him at eight
o'clock in the evening hung over him like a hideous doom. Sweet singers
of the female sex were powerless to console. He passed them by, and
haughty tenor and swaggering basso again took heart of grace.

"_Mais, mon Dieu, c'est le métier!_" expostulated Roulard.

"_Sale métier!_" cried Aristide, who was as much fitted for the
merciless routine of a theatre orchestra as a quagga for the shafts of
an omnibus. "A beast of a trade! One is no longer a man. One is just an
automatic system of fog-signals!"

In this depraved state of mind he arrived at Perpignan, where that
befell him which I am about to relate.

Now, Perpignan is the last town of France on the Gulf of Lions, a few
miles from the Spanish border. From it you can see the great white
monster of Le Canigou, the pride of the Eastern Pyrenees, far, far away,
blocking up the valley of the Tet, which flows sluggishly past the
little town. The Quai Sadi-Carnot (is there a provincial town in France
which has not a _something_ Sadi-Carnot in it?) is on the left bank
of the Tet; at one end is the modern Place Arago, at the other Le
Castillet, a round, castellated red-brick fortress with curiously long
and deep machicolations of the 14th century with some modern additions
of Louis XI, who also built the adjoining Porte Notre Dame which gives
access to the city. Between the Castillet and the Place Arago, the Quai
Sadi-Carnot is the site of the Prefecture, the Grand Hôtel, various
villas and other resorts of the aristocracy. Any little street off it
will lead you into the seething centre of Perpignan life--the Place de
la Loge, which is a great block of old buildings surrounded on its four
sides by narrow streets of shops, cafés, private houses, all with
balconies and jalousies, all cramped, crumbling, Spanish, picturesque.
The oldest of this conglomerate block is a corner building, the Loge de
Mer, a thirteenth century palace, the cloth exchange in the glorious
days when Perpignan was a seaport and its merchant princes traded with
Sultans and Doges and such-like magnificoes of the Mediterranean. But
nowadays its glory has departed. Below the great gothic windows spreads
the awning of a café, which takes up all the ground floor. Hugging it
tight is the Mairie, and hugging that, the Hôtel de Ville. Hither does
every soul in the place, at some hour or other of the day, inevitably
gravitate. Lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, merchants, lovers,
soldiers, market-women, loafers, horses, dogs, wagons, all crowd in a
noisy medley the narrow cobble-paved streets around the Loge. Of course
there are other streets, tortuous, odorous and cool, intersecting the
old town, and there are various open spaces, one of which is the broad
market square on one side flanked by the Théâtre Municipal.

From the theatre Aristide Pujol issued one morning after rehearsal,
and, leaving his colleagues, including the ever-thirsty Roulard, to
refresh themselves at a humble café hard by, went forth in search of
distraction. He idled about the Place de la Loge, passed the time of day
with a café waiter until the latter, with a disconcerting "_Voilà!
Voilà!_" darted off to attend to a customer, and then strolled through
the Porte Notre Dame onto the Quai Sadi-Carnot. There a familiar sound
met his ears--the roll of a drum followed by an incantation in a
quavering, high-pitched voice. It was the Town Crier, with whom, as with
a brother artist, he had picked acquaintance the day before.

They met by the parapet of the Quai, just as Père Bracasse had come to
the end of his incantation. The old man, grizzled, tanned and seamed,
leant weakly against the parapet.

"How goes it, Père Bracasse?"

"Alas, mon bon Monsieur, it goes from bad to worse," sighed the old man.
"I am at the end of my strength. My voice has gone and the accursed
rheumatism in my shoulder gives me atrocious pain whenever I beat the
drum."

"How much more of your round have you to go?" asked Aristide.

"I have only just begun," said Père Bracasse.

The Southern sun shone from a cloudless sky; a light, keen wind blowing
from the distant snow-clad Canigou set the blood tingling. A lunatic
idea flashed through Aristide's mind. He whipped the drum strap over the
old man's head.

"Père Bracasse," said he, "you are suffering from rheumatism,
bronchitis, fever and corns, and you must go home to bed. I will finish
your round for you. Listen," and he beat such a tattoo as Père Bracasse
had never accomplished in his life. "Where are your words?"

The old man, too weary to resist and fascinated by Aristide's laughing
eyes, handed him a dirty piece of paper. Aristide read, played a
magnificent roll and proclaimed in a clarion voice that a gold bracelet
having been lost on Sunday afternoon in the Avenue des Platanes, whoever
would deposit it at the Mairie would receive a reward.

"That's all?" he enquired.

"That's all," said Père Bracasse. "I live in the Rue Petite-de-la-Réal,
No. 4, and you will bring me back the drum when you have finished."

Aristide darted off like a dragon-fly in the sunshine, as happy as a
child with a new toy. Here he could play the drum to his heart's content
with no score or conductor's bâton to worry him. He was also the one and
only personage in the drama, concentrating on himself the attention of
the audience. He pitied poor Roulard, who could never have such an
opportunity with his trombone....

The effect of his drumming before the Café de la Loge was electric.
Shopkeepers ran out of their shops, housewives craned over their
balconies to listen to him. By the time he had threaded the busy strip
of the town and emerged on to the Place Arago he had collected an
admiring train of urchins. On the Place Arago he halted on the fringe of
a crowd surrounding a cheap-jack whose vociferations he drowned in a
roll of thunder. He drummed and drummed till he became the centre of the
throng. Then he proclaimed the bracelet. He had not enjoyed himself so
much since he left Paris.

He was striding away, merry-eyed and happy, followed by his satellites
when a prosperous-looking gentleman with a very red face, a prosperous
roll of fat above the back of his collar, and the ribbon of the Legion
of Honour in his buttonhole, descending the steps of the great
glass-covered café commanding the Place, hurried up and laid his finger
on his arm.

"Pardon, my friend," said he, "what are you doing there?"

"You shall hear, monsieur," replied Aristide, clutching the drumsticks.

"For the love of Heaven!" cried the other hastily interrupting. "Tell me
what are you doing?"

"I am crying the loss of a bracelet, monsieur!"

"But who are you?"

"I am Aristide Pujol, and I play the drum, kettle-drum, triangle,
cymbals, castagnettes and tambourine in the orchestra of the Tournée
Gulland. And now, in my turn, may I ask to whom I have the honour of
speaking?"

"I am the Mayor of Perpignan."

Aristide raised his hat politely. "I hope to have the pleasure," said
he, "of Monsieur le Maire's better acquaintance."

The Mayor, attracted by the rascal's guileless mockery, laughed.

"You will, my friend, if you go on playing that drum. You are not the
Town Crier."

Aristide explained. Père Bracasse was ill, suffering from rheumatism,
bronchitis, fever and corns. He was replacing him. The Mayor retorted
that Père Bracasse being a municipal functionary could not transmit his
functions except through the Administration. Monsieur Pujol must desist
from drumming and crying. Aristide bowed to authority and unstrung his
drum.

"But I was enjoying myself so much, Monsieur le Maire. You have spoiled
my day," said he.

The Mayor laughed again. There was an irresistible charm and roguishness
about the fellow, with his intelligent oval face, black Vandyke beard
and magically luminous eyes.

"I should have thought you had enough of drums in your orchestra."

"Ah! there I am cramped!" cried Aristide. "I have it in horror, in
detestation. Here I am free. I can give vent to all the aspirations of
my soul!"

The Mayor mechanically moved from the spot where they had been standing.
Aristide, embroidering his theme, mechanically accompanied him; and,
such is democratic France, and also such was the magnetic, Ancient
Mariner-like power of Aristide--did not I, myself, on my first meeting
with him at Aigues-Mortes fall helplessly under the spell--that, in a
few moments, the amateur Town Crier and the Mayor were walking together,
side by side, along the Quai Sadi-Carnot, engaged in amiable converse.
Aristide told the Mayor the story of his life--or such incidents of it
as were meet for Mayoral ears--and when they parted--the Mayor to lunch,
Aristide to yield up the interdicted drum to Père Bracasse--they shook
hands warmly and mutually expressed the wish that they would soon meet
again.

They met again; Aristide saw to that. They met again that very afternoon
in the café on the Place Arago. When Aristide entered he saw the Mayor
seated at a table in the company of another prosperous, red-ribboned
gentleman. Aristide saluted politely and addressed the Mayor. The Mayor
saluted and presented him to Monsieur Quérin, the President of the
Syndicat d'Initiative of the town of Perpignan. Monsieur Quérin saluted
and declared himself enchanted at the encounter. Aristide stood
gossiping until the Mayor invited him to take a place at the table and
consume liquid refreshment. Aristide glowingly accepted the invitation
and cast a look of triumph around the café. Not to all mortals is it
given to be the boon companion of a Mayor and a President of the
Syndicat d'Initiative!

Then ensued a conversation momentous in its consequences.

The Syndicat d'Initiative is a semi-official body existing in most
provincial towns in France for the purpose of organising public
festivals for the citizens and developing the resources and
possibilities of the town for the general amenity of visitors. Now
Perpignan is as picturesque, as sun-smitten and, in spite of the icy
tramontana, even as joyous a place as tourist could desire; and the
Carnival of Perpignan, as a spontaneous outburst of gaiety and
pageantry, is unique in France. But Perpignan being at the end of
everywhere and leading nowhere attracts very few visitors. Biarritz is
on the Atlantic coast at the other end of the Pyrenees; Hyères, Cannes
and Monte Carlo on the other side of the Gulf of Lions. No English or
Americans--the only visitors of any account in the philosophy of
provincial France--flock to Perpignan. This was a melancholy fact
bewailed by Monsieur Quérin. The town was perishing from lack of
Anglo-Saxon support. Monsieur Coquereau, the Mayor, agreed. If the
English and Americans came in their hordes to this paradise of mimosa,
fourteenth century architecture, sunshine and unique Carnival, the
fortunes of all the citizens would be assured. Perpignan would out-rival
Nice. But what could be done?

"Advertise it," said Aristide. "Flood the English-speaking world with
poetical descriptions of the place. Build a row of palatial hotels in
the new part of the town. It is not known to the Anglo-Saxons."

"How can you be certain of that?" asked Monsieur Quérin.

"_Parbleu!_" he cried, with a wide gesture. "I have known the English
all my life. I speak their language as I speak French or my native
Provençal. I have taught in schools in England. I know the country and
the people like my pocket. They have never heard of Perpignan."

His companions acquiesced sadly. Aristide, aglow with a sudden impudent
inspiration, leant across the marble table.

"Monsieur le Maire and Monsieur le Président du Syndicat d'Initiative, I
am sick to death of playing the drum, the kettle-drum, the triangle, the
cymbals, the castagnettes and the tambourine in the Tournée Gulland. I
was born to higher things. Entrust to me"--he converged the finger-tips
of both hands to his bosom--"to me, Aristide Pujol, the organisation of
Perpignan-Ville de Plaisir, and you will not regret it."

The Mayor and the President laughed.

       *       *       *       *       *

But my astonishing friend prevailed--not indeed to the extent of being
appointed a Petronius, _arbiter élegantiarum_, of the town of Perpignan;
but to the extent of being employed, I fear in a subordinate capacity,
by the Mayor and the Syndicat in the work of propagandism. The Tournée
Gulland found another drum and went its tuneful but weary way; and
Aristide remained gloriously behind and rubbed his hands with glee. At
last he had found permanence in a life where heretofore had been naught
but transience. At last he had found a sphere worthy of his genius. He
began to nourish insensate ambitions. He would be the Great Benefactor
of Perpignan. All Roussillon should bless his name. Already he saw his
statue on the Quai Sadi-Carnot.

His rise in the social scale of the town was meteoric, chiefly owing to
the goodwill of Madame Coquereau, the widowed mother of the Mayor. She
was a hard-featured old lady, with a face that might have been made of
corrugated iron painted yellow and with the eyes of an old hawk. She
dressed always in black, was very devout and rich and narrow and
iron-willed. Aristide was presented to her one Sunday afternoon at the
Café on the Place Arago--where on Sunday afternoons all the fashion of
Perpignan assembles--and--need I say it?--she fell at once a helpless
victim to his fascination. Accompanying her grandmother was Mademoiselle
Stéphanie Coquereau, the Mayor's niece (a wealthy orphan, as Aristide
soon learned), nineteen, pretty, demure, perfectly brought up, who said
"_Oui, Monsieur_" and "_Non, Monsieur_" with that quintessence of modest
grace which only a provincial French Convent can cultivate.

Aristide's heart left his body and rolled at the feet of Mademoiselle
Stéphanie. It was a way with Aristide's heart. It was always doing that.
He was of Provence and not of Peckham Rye or Hoboken, and he could not
help it.

Aristide called on Madame Coquereau, who entertained him with sweet
Frontignan wine, dry sponge cakes and conversation. After a while he was
invited to dinner. In a short space of time he became the intimate
friend of the house, and played piquet with Madame Coquereau, and grew
familiar with the family secrets. First he learned that Mademoiselle
Stéphanie would go to a husband with two hundred and fifty thousand
francs. Aristide's heart panted at the feet of Mademoiselle Stéphanie.
Further he gathered that, though Monsieur Coquereau was a personage of
great dignity and importance in civic affairs, he was as but a little
child in his own house. Madame Coquereau held the money-bags. Her son
had but little personal fortune. He had reached the age of forty-five
without being able to marry. Marriage unauthorized by Madame Coquereau
meant immediate poverty and the testamentary assignment of Madame
Coquereau's fortune to various religious establishments. None of the
objects of Monsieur Coquereau's matrimonial desire had pleased Madame
Coquereau, and none of Madame Coquereau's blushing candidates had caused
a pulse in Monsieur Coquereau's being to beat the faster. The Mayor held
his mother in professed adoration and holy terror. She held him in
abject subjection. Aristide became the confidant, in turn, of Madame's
sour philosophy of life and of Monsieur's impotence and despair. As for
Mademoiselle Stéphanie, she kept on saying "_Oui, Monsieur_" and "_Non,
Monsieur_," in a crescendo of maddening demureness.

So passed the halcyon hours. During the day time Aristide in a corner of
the Mayor's office, drew up flamboyant circulars in English which would
have put a pushing Land and Estate Agent in the New Jerusalem to the
blush, and in the evening played piquet with Madame Coquereau, while
Mademoiselle Stéphanie, model of modest piety, worked pure but nameless
birds and flowers on her embroidery frame. Monsieur le Maire, of course,
played his game of manilla at the café, after dinner, and generally
came home just before Aristide took his leave. If it had not been for
the presence of Mademoiselle Stéphanie, it would not have been gay for
Aristide. But love gilded the moments.

On the first evening of the Carnival, which lasts nearly a fortnight in
Perpignan, Aristide, in spite of a sweeter "_Oui, Monsieur_" than ever
from Mademoiselle Stéphanie, made an excuse to slip away rather earlier
than usual, and, front door having closed behind him, crossed the strip
of gravel with a quick step and flung out of the iron gates. Now the
house had an isolated position in the new quarter of the town. It was
perky and modern and defaced by all sorts of oriel windows and tourelles
and pinnacles which gave it a top-heavy appearance, and it was
surrounded by a low brick wall. Aristide, on emerging through the iron
gates, heard the sound of scurrying footsteps on the side of the wall
nearest to the town, and reached the corner, just in time to see a
masquer, attired in a Pierrot costume and wearing what seemed to be a
pig's head, disappear round the further angle. Paying no heed to this
phenomenon, Aristide lit a cigarette and walked, in anticipation of
enjoyment, to the great Avenue des Plantanes where the revelry of the
Carnival was being held. Aristide was young, he loved flirtation, and
flirtation flourished in the Avenue des Plantanes.

The next morning the Mayor entered his office with a very grave face.

"Do you know what has happened? My house was broken into last night. The
safe in my study was forced open, and three thousand francs and some
valuable jewelry were stolen. _Quel malheur!_" he cried, throwing
himself into a chair, and wiping his forehead. "It is not I who can
afford to lose three thousand francs at once. If they had robbed _maman_
it would have been a different matter."

Aristide expressed his sympathy.

"Whom do you suspect?" he asked.

"A robber, _parbleu!_" said the Mayor. "The police are even now making
their investigations."

The door opened and a plain clothes detective entered the office.

"Monsieur le Maire," said he, with an air of triumph, "I know a
burglar."

Both men leapt to their feet.

"Ah!" said Aristide.

"_A la bonne heure!_" cried the Mayor.

"Arrest him at once," said Aristide.

"Alas, Monsieur," said the detective, "that I cannot do. I have called
on him this morning and his wife tells me that he left for the North
yesterday afternoon. But it is José Puégas that did it. I know his
ways."

"_Tiens!_" said the Mayor, reflectively. "I know him also, an evil
fellow."

"But why are you not looking for him?" exclaimed Aristide.

"Arrangements have been made," replied the detective coldly.

Aristide suddenly bethought him of the furtive masquer of the night
before.

"I can put you on his track," said he, and related what he knew.

The Mayor looked dubious. "It wasn't he," he remarked.

"José Puégas, Monsieur, would not commit a burglary in a pig's head,"
said the policeman, with the cutting contempt of the expert.

"It was a vow, I suppose," said Aristide, stung to irony. "I've always
heard he was a religious man."

The detective did not condescend to reply.

"Monsieur le Maire," said he, "I should like to examine the premises,
and beg that you will have the kindness to accompany me."

"With the permission of Monsieur le Maire," said Aristide. "I too will
come."

"Certainly," said the Mayor. "The more intelligences concentrated on the
affair the better."

"I am not of that opinion," said the detective.

"It is the opinion of Monsieur le Maire," said Aristide rebukingly, "and
that is enough."

When they reached the house--distances are short in Perpignan--they
found policemen busily engaged with tape measures around the premises.
Old Madame Coquereau in a clean white linen dressing jacket,
bare-headed, defying the keen air, stood grim and eager in the midst of
them.

"Good morning, Monsieur Pujol, what do you think of this?"

"A veritable catastrophe," said Aristide.

She shrugged her iron shoulders. "I tell him it serves him right," she
said, cuttingly. "A sensible person keeps his money under his mattress
and not in a tin machine by a window which anyone can get at. I wonder
we've not been murdered in our beds before."

"_Ah, Maman!_" expostulated the Mayor of Perpignan.

But she turned her back on him and worried the policemen. They, having
probed, and measured, and consulted with the detective, came to an exact
conclusion. The thief had climbed over the back wall--there were his
footsteps. He had entered by the kitchen door--there were the marks of
infraction. He had broken open the safe--there was the helpless
condition of the lock. No one in Perpignan, but José Puégas, with his
bad, socialistic, Barcelona blood, could have done it. These brilliant
results were arrived at after much clamour and argument and imposing
_procès verbal_. Aristide felt strangely depressed. He had narrated his
story of the pig-headed masquer to unresponsive ears. Here was a
melodramatic scene in which he not only was not playing a leading part,
but did not even carry a banner. To be less than a super in life's
pageant was abhorrent to the nature of Aristide Pujol.

Moodily he wandered away from the little crowd. He hated the police and
their airs of gods for whom exists no mystery. He did not believe in the
kitchen-door theory. Why should not the thief have simply entered by the
window of the study, which like the kitchen, was on the ground floor? He
went round the house and examined the window by himself. No; there were
no traces of burglary. The fastenings of the outside shutters and the
high window were intact. The police were right.

Suddenly his quick eye lit on something in the gravel path and his heart
gave a great leap. It was a little round pink disc of confetti.

Aristide picked it up and began to dance and shake his fist at the
invisible police.

"Aha!" he cried, "now we shall see who is right and who is wrong!"

He began to search and soon found another bit of confetti. A little
further along he discovered a third and a fourth. By using his walking
stick he discovered that they formed a trail to a point in the wall. He
examined the wall. There, if his eyes did not deceive him, were
evidences of mortar dislodged by nefarious toes. And there, _mirabile
visu!_ at the very bottom of the wall lay a little woollen pompon or
tassel, just the kind of pompon that gives a finish to a pierrot's
shoes. Evidently the scoundrel had scraped it off against the bricks
while clambering over.

The pig-headed masquer stood confessed.

A less imaginative man than Aristide would have immediately acquainted
the police with his discovery. But Aristide had been insulted. A dull,
mechanical bureaucrat who tried to discover crime with a tape-measure
had dared to talk contemptuously of his intelligence! On his wooden head
should be poured the vials of his contempt.

"_Tron de l'air!_" cried Aristide--a Provençal oath which he only used
on sublime occasions--"It is I who will discover the thief and make the
whole lot of you the laughing-stock of Perpignan."

So did my versatile friend, joyously confident in his powers, start on
his glorious career as a private detective.

"Madame Coquereau," said he, that evening, while she was dealing a hand
at piquet, "what would you say if I solved this mystery and brought the
scoundrel to justice?"

"To say that you would have more sense than the police, would be a poor
compliment," said the old lady.

Stéphanie raised cloistral eyes from her embroidery frame. She sat in a
distant corner of the formal room discreetly lit by a shaded lamp.

"You have a clue, Monsieur?" she asked with adorable timidity.

Aristide tapped his forehead with his forefinger. "All is there,
Mademoiselle."

They exchanged a glance--the first they had exchanged--while Madame
Coquereau was frowning at her cards; and Aristide interpreted the glance
as the promise of supreme reward for great deeds accomplished.

The mayor returned early from the café, a dejected man. The loss of his
hundred and twenty pounds weighed heavily on his mind. He kissed his
mother sorrowfully on the cheek, his niece on the brow, held out a
drooping hand to Aristide, and, subsiding into a stiff imitation Louis
XVI chair, rested his elbows on its unconsoling arms and hid his face in
his hands.

"My poor uncle! You suffer so much?" breathed Stéphanie, in divine
compassion.

"Little Saint!" murmured Aristide devoutly, as he declared four aces and
three queens.

The Mayor moved his head sympathetically. He was suffering from the
sharpest pain in his pocket he had felt for many a day. Madame
Coquereau's attention wandered from the cards.

"_Dis donc_, Fernand," she said sharply. "Why are you not wearing your
ring?"

The Mayor looked up.

"_Maman_," said he, "it is stolen."

"Your beautiful ring?" cried Aristide.

The Mayor's ring, which he usually wore, was a remarkable personal
adornment. It consisted in a couple of snakes in old gold clenching an
enormous topaz between their heads. Only a Mayor could have worn it with
decency.

"You did not tell me, Fernand," rasped the old lady. "You did not
mention it to me as being one of the stolen objects."

The Mayor rose wearily. "It was to avoid giving you pain, _maman_. I
know what a value you set upon the ring of my good Aunt Philomène."

"And now it is lost," said Madame Coquereau, throwing down her cards. "A
ring that belonged to a saint. Yes, Monsieur Pujol, a saint, though she
was my sister. A ring that had been blessed by His Holiness the
Pope----"

"But, _maman_," expostulated the Mayor, "that was an imagination of Aunt
Philomène. Just because she went to Rome and had an audience like anyone
else----"

"Silence, impious atheist that you are!" cried the old lady. "I tell you
it was blessed by His Holiness--and when I tell you a thing it is true.
That is the son of to-day. He will call his mother a liar as soon as
look at her. It was a ring beyond price. A ring such as there are few in
the world. And instead of taking care of this precious heirloom, he goes
and locks it away in a safe. Ah! you fill me with shame. Monsieur Pujol,
I am sorry I can play no more, I must retire. Stéphanie, will you
accompany me?"

And gathering up Stéphanie like a bunch of snowdrops, the yellow,
galvanized iron old lady swept out of the room.

The Mayor looked at Aristide and moved his arms dejectedly.

"Such are women," said he.

"My own mother nearly broke her heart because I would not become a
priest," said Aristide.

"I wish I were a Turk," said the Mayor.

"I, too," said Aristide.

He took pouch and papers and rolled a cigarette.

"If there is a man living who can say he has not felt like that at least
once in his life he ought to be exhibited at a fair."

"How well you understand me, my good Pujol," said Monsieur Coquereau.

The next few days passed busily for Aristide. He devoted every spare
hour to his new task. He scrutinized every inch of ground between the
study window and the wall; he drew radiating lines from the point of
the wall whence the miscreant had started homeward and succeeded in
finding more confetti. He cross-examined every purveyor of pierrot shoes
and pig's heads in Perpignan. His researches soon came to the ears of
the police, still tracing the mysterious José Puégas. A certain
good-humoured brigadier whose Catalan French Aristide found difficult to
understand, but with whom he had formed a derisory kind of friendship,
urged him to desist from the hopeless task.

"_Jamais de la vie!_" he cried--"The honour of Aristide Pujol is at
stake."

The thing became an obsession. Not only his honour but his future was at
stake. If he discovered the thief, he would be the most talked of person
in Perpignan. He would know how to improve his position. He would rise
to dizzy heights. Perpignan-Ville de Plaisir would acclaim him as its
saviour. The Government would decorate him. And finally, both the Mayor
and Madame Coquereau would place the blushing and adorable Mademoiselle
Stéphanie in his arms and her two hundred and fifty thousand francs
dowry in his pocket. Never before had so dazzling a prize shimmered
before him in the near distance.

On the last Saturday night of the Carnival, there was a special _corso_
for the populace in the Avenue des Plantanes, the long splendid Avenue
of plane trees just outside the Porte Notre Dame, which is the special
glory of Perpignan. The masquers danced to three or four bands. They
threw confetti and _serpentins_. They rode hobby-horses and beat each
other with bladders. They joined in bands of youths and maidens and
whirled down the Avenue in Bacchic madness. It was a _corso blanc_, and
everyone wore white--chiefly modifications of Pierrot costume--and
everyone was masked. Chinese lanterns hung from the trees and in
festoons around the bandstands and darted about in the hands of the
revellers. Above, great standard electric lamps shed their white glare
upon the eddying throng casting a myriad of grotesque shadows. Shouts
and laughter and music filled the air.

Aristide in a hideous red mask and with a bag of confetti under his arm,
plunged with enthusiasm into the revelry. To enjoy yourself you only had
to throw your arm round a girl's waist and swing her off wildly to the
beat of the music. If you wanted to let her go you did so; if not, you
talked in the squeaky voice that is the recognized etiquette of the
carnival. On the other hand any girl could catch you in her grip and
sweep you along with her. Your mad career generally ended in a crowd and
a free fight of confetti. There was one fair masquer, however, to whom
Aristide became peculiarly attracted. Her movements were free, her
figure dainty and her repartee, below her mask, more than usually
piquant.

"This hurly-burly," said he, drawing her into a quiet eddy of the
stream, "is no place for the communion of two twin souls."

"_Beau masque_," said she, "I perceive that you are a man of much
sensibility."

"Shall we find a spot where we can mingle the overflow of our exquisite
natures?"

"As you like."

"_Allons! Hop!_" cried he, and seizing her round the waist danced
through the masquers to the very far end of the Avenue.

"There is a sequestered spot round here," he said.

They turned. The sequestered spot, a seat beneath a plane tree, with a
lonesome arc-lamp shining full upon it, was occupied.

"It's a pity!" said the fair unknown.

But Aristide said nothing. He stared. On the seat reposed an amorous
couple. The lady wore a white domino and a black mask. The cavalier,
whose arm was around the lady's waist, wore a pig's head, and a clown or
Pierrot's dress.

Aristide's eyes fell upon the shoes. On one of them the pompon was
missing.

The lady's left hand tenderly patted the cardboard snout of her lover.
The fierce light of the arc lamp caught the hand and revealed, on the
fourth finger, a topaz ring, the topaz held in its place by two snakes'
heads.

Aristide stared for two seconds; it seemed to him two centuries. Then he
turned simply, caught his partner again, and with a "_Allons, Hop!_"
raced back to the middle of the throng. There, in the crush, he
unceremoniously lost her, and sped like a maniac to the entrance gates.
His friend the brigadier happened to be on duty. He unmasked himself,
dragged the police agent aside, and breathless, half-hysterical,
acquainted him with the astounding discovery.

"I was right, _mon vieux!_ There at the end of the Avenue you will find
them. The pig-headed prowler I saw, with _my_ pompon missing from his
shoe, and his _bonne amie_ wearing the stolen ring. Ah! you police
people with your tape-measures and your José Puégas! It is I, Aristide
Pujol, who have to come to Perpignan to teach you your business!"

"What do you want me to do?" asked the brigadier stolidly.

"Do?" cried Aristide. "Do you think I want you to kiss them and cover
them with roses? What do you generally do with thieves in Perpignan?"

"Arrest them," said the brigadier.

"_Eh bien!_" said Aristide. Then he paused--possibly the drama of the
situation striking him. "No, wait. Go and find them. Don't take your
eyes off them. I will run and fetch Monsieur le Maire and he will
identify his property--_et puis nous aurons la scène à faire_."

The stout brigadier grunted an assent and rolled monumentally down the
Avenue. Aristide, his pulses throbbing, his heart exulting, ran to the
Mayor's house. He was rather a panting triumph than a man. He had beaten
the police of Perpignan. He had discovered the thief. He was the hero of
the town. Soon would the wedding bells be playing.... He envied the
marble of the future statue. He would like to be on the pedestal
himself.

He dashed past the maid-servant who opened the door and burst into the
prim salon. Madame Coquereau was alone, just preparing to retire for the
night. Mademoiselle Stéphanie had already gone to bed.

"_Mon Dieu_, what is all this?" she cried.

"Madame," shouted he, "glorious news. I have found the thief!"

He told his tale. Where was Monsieur le Maire?

"He has not yet come back from the café."

"I'll go and find him," said Aristide.

"And waste time? Bah!" said the iron-faced old lady, catching up a black
silk shawl. "I will come with you and identify the ring of my sainted
sister Philomène. Who should know it better than I?"

"As you like, Madame," said Aristide.

Two minutes found them on their journey. Madame Coquereau, in spite of
her sixty-five years trudged along with springing step.

"They don't make metal like me, nowadays," she said scornfully.

When they arrived at the gate of the Avenue, the police on guard
saluted. The mother of Monsieur le Maire was a power in Perpignan.

"Monsieur," said Aristide, in lordly fashion, to a policeman, "will you
have the goodness to make a passage through the crowd for Madame
Coquereau, and then help the Brigadier Pésac to arrest the burglar who
broke into the house of Monsieur le Maire?"

The man obeyed, went ahead clearing the path with the unceremoniousness
of the law, and Aristide giving his arm to Madame Coquereau followed
gloriously. As the impressive progress continued the revellers ceased
their revels and followed in the wake of Aristide. At the end of the
Avenue Brigadier Pésac was on guard. He approached.

"They are still there," he said.

"Good," said Aristide.

The two police-officers, Aristide and Madame Coquereau turned the
corner. At the sight of the police the guilty couple started to their
feet. Madame Coquereau pounced like a hawk on the masked lady's hand.

"I identify it," she cried. "Brigadier, give these people in charge for
theft."

The white masked crowd surged around the group, in the midst of which
stood Aristide transfigured. It was his supreme moment. He flourished in
one hand his red mask and in the other a pompon which he had extracted
from his pocket.

"This I found," said he, "beneath the wall of Monsieur le Maire's
garden. Behold the shoe of the accused."

The crowd murmured their applause and admiration. Neither of the
prisoners stirred. The pig's head grinned at the world with its inane,
painted leer. A rumbling voice beneath it said:

"We will go quietly."

"_Attention s'il vous plaît_," said the policemen, and each holding a
prisoner by the arm they made a way through the crowd. Madame Coquereau
and Aristide followed close behind.

"What did I tell you?" cried Aristide to the brigadier.

"It's Puégas, all the same," said the brigadier, over his shoulder.

"I bet you it's not," said Aristide, and striding swiftly to the back of
the male prisoner whipped off the pig's head, and revealed to the
petrified throng the familiar features of the Mayor of Perpignan.

Aristide regarded him for two or three seconds open-mouthed, and then
fell back into the arms of the Brigadier Pésac screaming with convulsive
laughter. The crowd caught the infection of merriment. Shrieks filled
the air. The vast mass of masqueraders held their sides, swayed
helplessly, rolled in heaps, men and women, tearing each other's
garments as they fell.

Aristide, deposited on the ground by the Brigadier Pésac laughed and
laughed. When he recovered some consciousness of surroundings, he found
the Mayor bending over him and using language that would have made
Tophet put its fingers in its ears. He rose. Madame Coquereau shook her
thin fists in his face.

"Imbecile! Triple fool!" she cried.

Aristide turned tail and fled. There was nothing else to do.

And that was the end of his career at Perpignan. Vanished were the
dreams of civic eminence; melted into thin air the statue on the Quai
Sadi-Carnot; faded, too, the vision of the modest Stéphanie crowned with
orange-blossom; gone forever the two hundred and fifty thousand francs.
Never since Alnaschar kicked over his basket of crockery was there such
a hideous welter of shattered hopes.

If the Mayor had been allowed to go disguised to the Police Station, he
could have disclosed his identity and that of the lady in private to
awe-stricken functionaries. He might have forgiven Aristide. But
Aristide had exposed him to the derision of the whole of Roussillon and
the never ending wrath of Madame Coquereau. Ruefully Aristide asked
himself the question: why had the Mayor not taken him into the
confidence of his masquerading escapade? Why had he not told him of the
pretty widow, whom, unknown to his mother, he was courting? Why had he
permitted her to wear the ring which he had given her so as to spite his
sainted Aunt Philomène? And why had he gone on wearing the pig's head
after Aristide had told him of his suspicions? Ruefully Aristide found
no answers save in the general chuckle-headedness of mankind.

"If it hadn't been such a good farce I should have wept like a cow,"
said Aristide, after relating this story. "But every time I wanted to
cry, I laughed. _Nom de Dieu!_ You should have seen his face! And the
face of Madame Coquereau! She opened her mouth wide showing ten yellow
teeth and squealed like a rabbit! Oh, it was a good farce! He was very
cross with me," he added after a smiling pause, "and when I got back to
Paris I tried to pacify him."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I sent him my photograph," said Aristide.



VI

THE ADVENTURE OF FLEURETTE


One day, when Aristide was discoursing on the inexhaustible subject of
woman, I pulled him up.

"My good friend," said I, "you seem to have fallen in love with every
woman you have ever met. But for how many of them have you really
cared?"

"_Mon Dieu!_ For all of them!" he cried, springing from his chair and
making a wind-mill of himself.

"Come, come," said I; "all that amorousness is just Gallic exuberance.
Have you ever been really in love in your life?"

"How should I know?" said he. But he lit a cigarette, turned away, and
looked out of window.

There was a short silence. He shrugged his shoulders, apparently in
response to his own thoughts. Then he turned again suddenly, threw his
cigarette into the fire, and thrust his hands into his pockets. He
sighed.

"Perhaps there was Fleurette," said he, not looking at me. "_Est-ce
qu'on sait jamais?_ That wasn't her real name--it was Marie-Joséphine;
but people called her Fleurette. She looked like a flower, you know."

I nodded in order to signify my elementary acquaintance with the French
tongue.

"The most delicate little flower you can conceive," he continued.
"_Tiens_, she was a slender lily--so white, and her hair the flash of
gold on it--and she had eyes--_des yeux de pervenche_, as we say in
French. What is _pervenche_ in English--that little pale-blue flower?"

"Periwinkle," said I.

"Periwinkle eyes! My God, what a language! Ah, no! She had _des yeux de
pervenche_.... She was _diaphane_, diaphanous ... impalpable as
cigarette-smoke ... a little nose like nothing at all, with nostrils
like infinitesimal sea-shells. Anyone could have made a mouthful of
her.... Ah! _Cré nom d'un chien!_ Life is droll. It has no common sense.
It is the game of a mountebank.... I've never told you about Fleurette.
It was this way."

And the story he narrated I will do my best to set down.

       *       *       *       *       *

The good M. Bocardon, of the Hôtel de la Curatterie at Nîmes, whose
grateful devotion to Aristide has already been recorded, had a brother
in Paris who managed the Hôtel du Soleil et de l'Ecosse (strange
conjuncture), a flourishing third-rate hostelry in the neighbourhood of
the Halles Centrales. Thither flocked sturdy Britons in knickerbockers,
stockings, and cloth caps, Teutons with tin botanizing boxes (for lunch
transportation), and American school-marms realizing at last the dream
of their modest and laborious lives. Accommodation was cheap, manners
were easy, and knowledge of the gay city less than rudimentary.

To M. Bocardon of Paris Aristide, one August morning, brought glowing
letters of introduction from M. and Mme. Bocardon of Nîmes. M. Bocardon
of Paris welcomed Aristide as a Provençal and a brother. He brought out
from a cupboard in his private bureau an hospitable bottle of old
Armagnac, and discoursed with Aristide on the seductions of the South.
It was there that he longed to retire--to a dainty little hotel of his
own with a smart clientèle. The clientèle of the Hôtel du Soleil et de
l'Ecosse was not to his taste. He spoke slightingly of his guests.

"There are people who know how to travel," said he, "and people who
don't. These lost muttons here don't, and they make hotel-keeping a
nightmare instead of a joy. A hundred times a day have I to tell them
the way to Notre Dame. _Pouah!_" said he, gulping down his disgust and
the rest of his Armagnac, "it is back-breaking."

"_Tu sais, mon vieux_," cried Aristide--he had the most lightning way of
establishing an intimacy--"I have an idea. These lost sheep need a
shepherd."

"_Eh bien?_" said M. Bocardon.

"_Eh bien_," said Aristide. "Why should not I be the shepherd, the
official shepherd attached to the Hôtel du Soleil et de l'Ecosse?"

"Explain yourself," said M. Bocardon.

Aristide, letting loose his swift imagination, explained copiously, and
hypnotized M. Bocardon with his glittering eye, until he had assured to
himself a means of livelihood. From that moment he became the familiar
genius of the hotel. Scorning the title of "guide," lest he should be
associated in the minds of the guests with the squalid scoundrels who
infest the Boulevard, he constituted himself "Directeur de l'Agence
Pujol." An obfuscated Bocardon formed the rest of the agency and
pocketed a percentage of Aristide's earnings, and Aristide, addressed as
"Director" by the Anglo-Saxons, "M. le Directeur" by the Latins, and
"Herr Direktor" by the Teutons, walked about like a peacock in a
barn-yard.

 [Illustration: HE MUST HAVE DEALT OUT PARALYZING INFORMATION]

At that period, and until he had learned up Baedeker by heart, a process
which nearly gave him brain-fever, and still, he declares, brings terror
into his slumbers, he knew little more of the history, topography, and
art-treasures of Paris than the flock he shepherded. He must have
dealt out paralyzing information. The Britons and the Germans seemed not
to heed; but now and then the American school-marms unmasked the
charlatan. On such occasions his unfaltering impudence reached heights
truly sublime. The sharp-witted ladies looked in his eyes, forgot their
wrongs, and, if he had told them that the Eiffel Tower had been erected
by the Pilgrim Fathers, would have accepted the statement meekly.

"My friend," said Aristide, with Provençal flourish and braggadocio, "I
never met a woman that would not sooner be misled by me than be taught
by the whole Faculty of the Sorbonne."

He had been practising this honourable profession for about a month,
lodging with the good Mme. Bidoux at 213 bis, Rue Saint-Honoré, when,
one morning, in the vestibule of the hotel, he ran into his old friend
Batterby, whom he had known during the days of his professorship of
French at the Academy for Young Ladies in Manchester. The pair had been
fellow-lodgers in the same house in the Rusholme Road; but, whereas
Aristide lived in one sunless bed-sitting-room looking on a forest of
chimney-pots, Batterby, man of luxury and ease, had a suite of
apartments on the first floor and kept an inexhaustible supply of
whisky, cigars, and such-like etceteras of the opulent, and the very
ugliest prize bull-pup you can imagine. Batterby, in gaudy raiment,
went to an office in Manchester; in gaudier raiment he often attended
race meetings. He had rings and scarf-pins and rattled gold in his
trousers pockets. He might have been an insufferable young man for a
poverty-stricken teacher of French to have as a fellow-lodger; but he
was not. Like all those born to high estate, he made no vulgar parade of
his wealth, and to Aristide he showed the most affable hospitality. A
friendship had arisen between them, which the years had idealized rather
than impaired. So when they met that morning in the vestibule of the
Hôtel du Soleil et de l'Ecosse their greetings were fervent and
prolonged.

In person Batterby tended towards burliness. He had a red, jolly face,
divided unequally by a great black moustache, and his manner was hearty.
He slapped Aristide on the back many times and shook him by the
shoulders.

"We must have a drink on this straight away, old man," said he.

"You're so strange, you English," said Aristide. "The moment you have an
emotion you must celebrate it by a drink. 'My dear fellow, I've just
come into a fortune; let us have a drink.' Or, 'My friend, my poor old
father has just been run over by an omnibus; let us have a drink.' My
good Reginald, look at the clock. It is only nine in the morning."

"Rot!" said Reginald. "Drink is good at any time."

They went into the dark and deserted smoking-room, where Batterby
ordered Scotch and soda and Aristide, an abstemious man, a plain
vermouth.

"What's that muck?" asked Batterby, when the waiter brought the drinks.
Aristide explained. "Whisky's good enough for me," laughed the other.
Aristide laughed too, out of politeness and out of joy at meeting his
old friend.

"With you playing at guide here," said Batterby, when he had learned
Aristide's position in the hotel, "it seems I have come to the right
shop. There are no flies on me, you know, but when a man comes to Paris
for the first time he likes to be put up to the ropes."

"Your first visit to Paris?" cried Aristide. "_Mon vieux_, what wonders
are going to ravish your eyes! What a time you are going to have!"

Batterby bit off the end of a great black cigar.

"If the missus will let me," said he.

"Missus? Your wife? You are married, my dear Reginald?" Aristide leaped,
in his unexpected fashion, from his chair and almost embraced him. "Ah,
but you are happy, you are lucky. It was always like that. You open your
mouth and the larks fall ready roasted into it! My congratulations. And
she is here, in this hotel, your wife? Tell me about her."

Batterby lit his cigar. "She's nothing to write home about," he said,
modestly. "She's French."

"French? No--you don't say so!" exclaimed Aristide, in ecstasy.

"Well, she was brought up in France from her childhood, but her parents
were Finns. Funny place for people to come from--Finland--isn't it? You
could never expect it--might just as well think of 'em coming from
Lapland. She's an orphan. I met her in London."

"But that's romantic! And she is young, pretty?"

"Oh, yes; in a way," said the proprietary Briton.

"And her name?"

"Oh, she has a fool name--Fleurette. I wanted to call her Flossie, but
she didn't like it."

"I should think not," said Aristide. "Fleurette is an adorable name."

"I suppose it's right enough," said Batterby. "But if I want to call her
good old Flossie, why should she object? You married, old man? No? Well,
wait till you are. You think women are angels all wrapped up in feathers
and wings beneath their toggery, don't you? Well, they're just blooming
porcupines, all bristling with objections."

"_Mais, allons, donc!_" cried Aristide. "You love her, your beautiful
Finnish orphan brought up in France and romantically met in London, with
the adorable name?"

"Oh, that's all right," said the easy Batterby, lifting his half-emptied
glass. "Here's luck!"

"Ah--no!" said Aristide, leaning forward and clinking his wineglass
against the other's tumbler. "Here is to madame."

When they returned to the vestibule they found Mrs. Batterby patiently
awaiting her lord. She rose from her seat at the approach of the two
men, a fragile flower of a girl, about three-and-twenty, pale as a lily,
with exquisite though rather large features, and with eyes of the blue
of the _pervenche_ (in deference to Aristide I use the French name),
which seemed to smile trustfully through perpetual tears. She was
dressed in pale, shadowy blue--graceful, impalpable, like the smoke,
said Aristide, curling upwards from a cigarette.

"Reggie has spoken of you many times, monsieur," said Fleurette, after
the introduction had been effected.

Aristide was touched. "Fancy him remembering me! _Ce bon vieux
Reginald._ Madame," said he, "your husband is the best fellow in the
world."

"Feed him with sugar and he won't bite," said Batterby; whereat they all
laughed, as if it had been a very good joke.

"Well, what about this Paris of yours?" he asked, after a while. "The
missus knows as little of it as I do."

"Really?" asked Aristide.

"I lived all my life in Brest before I went to England," she said,
modestly.

"She wants to see all the sights, the Louvre, the Morgue, the Cathedral
of What's-its-name that you've got here. I've got to go round, too.
Pleases her and don't hurt me. You must tote us about. We'll have a cab,
old girl, as you can't do much walking, and good old Pujol will come
with us."

"But that is ideal!" cried Aristide, flying to the door to order the
cab; but before he could reach it he was stopped by three or four
waiting tourists, who pointed, some to the clock, some to the wagonette
standing outside, and asked the director when the personally-conducted
party was to start. Aristide, who had totally forgotten the
responsibilities attached to the directorship of the Agence Pujol and,
but for this reminder, would have blissfully left his sheep to err and
stray over Paris by themselves, returned crestfallen to his friends and
explained the situation.

"But we'll join the party," said the cheery Batterby. "The more the
merrier--good old bean-feast! Will there be room?"

"Plenty," replied Aristide, brightening. "But would it meet the wishes
of madame?" Her pale face flushed ever so slightly and the soft eyes
fluttered at him a half-astonished, half-grateful glance.

"With my husband and you, monsieur, I should love it," she said.

So Mr. and Mrs. Batterby joined the personally-conducted party, as they
did the next morning, and the next, and several mornings after, and
received esoteric information concerning the monuments of Paris that is
hidden even from the erudite. The evenings, however, Aristide, being off
duty, devoted to their especial entertainment. He took them to riotous
and perspiring restaurants where they dined gorgeously for three francs
fifty, wine included; to open-air _cafés-concerts_ in the Champs
Elysées, which Fleurette found infinitely diverting, but which bored
Batterby, who knew not French, to stertorous slumber; to crowded
brasseries on the Boulevard, where Batterby awakened, under a steady
flow of whisky, to appreciative contemplation of Paris life. As in the
old days of the Rusholme Road, Batterby flung his money about with
unostentatious generosity. He was out for a beano, he declared, and hang
the expense! Aristide, whose purse, scantily filled (truth to say) by
the profits of the Agence Pujol, could contribute but modestly to this
reckless expenditure, found himself forced to accept his friend's lavish
hospitality. Once or twice, delicately, he suggested withdrawal from the
evening's dissipation.

"But, my good M. Pujol," said Fleurette, with childish tragicality in
her _pervenche_ eyes, "without you we shall be lost. We shall not enjoy
ourselves at all, at all."

So Aristide, out of love for his friend, and out of he knew not what for
his friend's wife, continued to show them the sights of Paris. They went
to the cabarets of Montmartre--the _Ciel_, where one is served by
angels; the _Enfer_, where one is served by red devils in a Tartarean
lighting; the _Néant_, where one has coffins for tables--than all of
which vulgarity has imagined no more joy-killing dreariness, but which
caused Fleurette to grip Aristide's hand tight in scared wonderment and
Batterby to chuckle exceedingly. They went to the Bal Bullier and to
various other balls undreamed of by the tourist, where Fleurette danced
with Aristide, as light as an autumn leaf tossed by the wind, and
Batterby absorbed a startling assortment of alcohols. In a word,
Aristide procured for his friends prodigious diversion.

"How do you like this, old girl?" Batterby asked one night, at the
Moulin de la Galette, a dizzying, not very decorous, and to the
unsophisticated visitor a dangerous place of entertainment. "Better than
Great Coram Street, isn't it?"

She smiled and laid her hand on his. She was a woman of few words but of
many caressing actions.

"I ought to let you into a secret," said he. "This is our honeymoon."

"Who would have thought it?"

 [Illustration: FLEURETTE DANCED WITH ARISTIDE, AS LIGHT AS AN AUTUMN
                LEAF TOSSED BY THE WIND]

"A fortnight ago she was being killed in a Bloomsbury boarding-house.
There were two of 'em--she and a girl called Carrie. I used to call 'em
Fetch and Carrie. This one was Fetch. Well, she fetched me, didn't you,
old girl? And now you're Mrs. Reginald Batterby, living at your ease,
eh?"

"Madame would grace any sphere," said Aristide.

"I wish I had more education," said Fleurette, humbly. "M. Pujol and
yourself are so clever that you must laugh at me."

"We do sometimes, but you mustn't mind us. Remember--at the
what-you-call-it--the little shanty at Versailles----?"

"The Grand Trianon," replied Aristide.

"That's it. When you were showing us the rooms. 'What is the Empress
Josephine doing now?'" He mimicked her accent. "Ha! ha! And the poor
soul gone to glory a couple of hundred years ago."

The little mouth puckered at the corners and moisture gathered in the
blue eyes.

"_Mais, mon Dieu_, it was natural, the mistake," cried Aristide,
gallantly. "The Empress Eugénie, the wife of another Napoleon, is still
living."

"_Bien sûr_," said Fleurette. "How was I to know?"

"Never mind, old girl," said Batterby. "You're living all right, and out
of that beastly boarding-house, and that's the chief thing. Another
month of it would have killed her. She had a cough that shook her to
bits. She's looking better already, isn't she, Pujol?"

After this Aristide learned much of her simple history, which she, at
first, had been too shy to reveal. The child of Finnish sea-folk who had
drifted to Brest and died there, she had been adopted by an old Breton
sea-dog and his wife. On their death she had entered, as maid, the
service of an English lady residing in the town, who afterwards had
taken her to England. After a while reverses of fortune had compelled
the lady to dismiss her, and she had taken the situation in the
boarding-house, where she had ruined her health and met the opulent and
conquering Batterby. She had not much chance, poor child, of acquiring a
profound knowledge of the history of the First Empire; but her manners
were refined and her ways gentle and her voice was soft; and Aristide,
citizen of the world, for whom caste distinctions existed not, thought
her the most exquisite flower grown in earth's garden. He told her so,
much to her blushing satisfaction.

One night, about three weeks after the Batterbys' arrival in Paris,
Batterby sent his wife to bed and invited Aristide to accompany him for
half an hour to a neighbouring café. He looked grave and troubled.

"I've been upset by a telegram," said he, when drinks had been ordered.
"I'm called away to New York on business. I must catch the boat from
Cherbourg to-morrow evening. Now, I can't take Fleurette with me. Women
and business don't mix. She has jolly well got to stay here. I sha'n't
be away more than a month. I'll leave her plenty of money to go on with.
But what's worrying me is--how is she going to stick it? So look here,
old man, you're my pal, aren't you?"

He stretched out his hand. Aristide grasped it impulsively.

"Why, of course, _mon vieux!_"

"If I felt that I could leave her in your charge, all on the square, as
a real straight pal--I should go away happy."

"She shall be my sister," cried Aristide, "and I shall give her all the
devotion of a brother.... I swear it--_tiens_--what can I swear it on?"
He flung out his arms and looked round the café as if in search of an
object. "I swear it on the head of my mother. Have no fear. I, Aristide
Pujol, have never betrayed the sacred obligations of friendship. I
accept her as a consecrated trust."

"You only need to have said 'Right-o,' and I would have believed you,"
said Batterby. "I haven't told her yet. There'll be blubbering all
night. Let us have another drink."

When Aristide arrived at the Hôtel du Soleil et de l'Ecosse at nine
o'clock the next morning he found that Batterby had left Paris by an
early train. Fleurette he did not meet until he brought back the
sight-seers to the fold in the evening. She had wept much during the
day; but she smiled bravely on Aristide. A woman could not stand in the
way of her husband's business.

"By the way, what is Reginald's business?" Aristide asked.

She did not know. Reginald never spoke to her of such things; perhaps
she was too ignorant to understand.

"But he will make a lot of money by going to America," she said. Then
she was silent for a few moments. "_Mon Dieu!_" she sighed, at last.
"How long the day has been!"

It was the beginning of many long days for Fleurette. Reginald did not
write from Cherbourg or cable from New York, as he had promised, and the
return American mail brought no letter. The days passed drearily.
Sometimes, for the sake of human society, she accompanied the tourist
parties of the Agence Pujol; but the thrill had passed from the Morgue
and the glory had departed from Versailles. Sometimes she wandered
out by herself into the streets and public gardens; but, pretty,
unprotected, and fragile, she attracted the attention of evil or
careless men, which struck cold terror into her heart. Most often she
sat alone and listless in the hotel, reading the feuilleton of the
_Petit Journal_, and waiting for the post to bring her news.

"_Mon Dieu_, M. Pujol, what can have happened?"

"Nothing at all, _chère petite madame_"--question and answer came many
times a day. "Only some foolish mischance which will soon be explained.
The good Reginald has written and his letter has been lost in the post.
He has been obliged to go on business to San Francisco or Buenos
Ayres--_et, que voulez-vous?_ one cannot have letters from those places
in twenty-four hours."

"If only he had taken me with him!"

"But, dear Mme. Fleurette, he could not expose you to the hardships
of travel. You, who are as fragile as a cobweb, how could you go to
Patagonia or Senegal or Baltimore, those wild places where there are no
comforts for women? You must be reasonable. I am sure you will get a
letter soon--or else in a day or two he will come, with his good, honest
face as if nothing had occurred--these English are like that--and call
for whisky and soda. Be comforted, _chère petite madame_."

Aristide did his best to comfort her, threw her in the companionship of
decent women staying at the hotel, and devoted his evenings to her
entertainment. But the days passed, and Reginald Batterby, with the
good, honest face, neither wrote nor ordered whisky and soda. Fleurette
began to pine and fade.

One day she came to Aristide.

"M. Pujol, I have no more money left."

"_Bigre!_" said Pujol. "The good Bocardon will have to give you credit.
I'll arrange it."

"But I already owe for three weeks," said Fleurette.

Aristide sought Bocardon. One week more was all the latter dared allow.

"But her husband will return and pay you. He is my old and intimate
friend. I make myself hoarse in telling it to you, wooden-head that you
are!"

But Bocardon, who had to account to higher powers, the proprietors of
the hotel, was helpless. At the end of the week Fleurette was called
upon to give up her room. She wept with despair; Aristide wept with
fury; Bocardon wept out of sympathy. Already, said Bocardon, the
proprietors would blame him for not using the legal right to detain
madame's luggage.

"_Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!_ what is to become of me?" wailed Fleurette.

"You forget, madame," said Aristide, with one of his fine flourishes,
"that you are the sacred trust of Aristide Pujol."

"But I can't accept your money," objected Fleurette.

"_Tron de l'air!_" he cried. "Did your husband put you in my charge or
did he not? Am I your legal guardian, or am I not? If I am your legal
guardian, what right have you to question the arrangements made by your
husband? Answer me that."

Fleurette, too gentle and too miserable for intricate argument, sighed.

"But it is your money, all the same."

Aristide turned to Bocardon. "Try," said he, "to convince a woman! Do
you want proofs? Wait there a minute while I get them from the safe of
the Agence Pujol."

He disappeared into the bureau, where, secure from observation, he tore
an oblong strip from a sheet of stiff paper, and, using an indelible
pencil, wrote out something fantastic halfway between a cheque and a
bill of exchange, forged as well as he could from memory the signature
of Reginald Batterby--the imitation of handwriting was one of Aristide's
many odd accomplishments--and made the document look legal by means of a
receipt stamp, which he took from Bocardon's drawer. He returned to the
vestibule with the strip folded and somewhat crumpled in his hand.
"_Voilà_," said he, handing it boldly to Fleurette. "Here is your
husband's guarantee to me, your guardian, for four thousand francs."

Fleurette examined the forgery. The stamp impressed her. For the simple
souls of France there is magic in _papier timbré_.

"It was my husband who wrote this?" she asked, curiously.

"_Mais, oui_," said Aristide, with an offended air of challenge.

Fleurette's eyes filled again with tears.

"I only inquired," she said, "because this is the first time I have seen
his handwriting."

"_Ma pauvre petite_," said Aristide.

"I will do whatever you tell me, M. Pujol," said Fleurette, humbly.

"Good! That is talking like _une bonne petite dame raisonnable_. Now, I
know a woman made up of holy bread whom St. Paul and St. Peter are
fighting to have next them when she goes to Paradise. Her name is Mme.
Bidoux, and she sells cabbages and asparagus and charcoal at No. 213
bis, Rue Saint-Honoré. She will arrange our little affair. Bocardon,
will you have madame's trunks sent to that address?"

He gave his arm to Fleurette, and walked out of the hotel, with serene
confidence in the powers of the sainted Mme. Bidoux. Fleurette
accompanied him unquestioningly. Of course she might have said: "If you
hold negotiable security from my husband to the amount of four thousand
francs, why should I exchange the comforts of the hotel for the doubtful
accommodation of the sainted Mme. Bidoux who sells cabbages?" But I
repeat that Fleurette was a simple soul who took for granted the wisdom
of so flamboyant and virile a creature as Aristide Pujol.

Away up at the top of No. 213 bis, Rue Saint-Honoré, was a little
furnished room to let, and there Aristide installed his sacred charge.
Mme. Bidoux, who, as she herself maintained, would have cut herself into
four pieces for Aristide--did he not save her dog's life? Did he not
marry her daughter to the brigadier of gendarmes (_sale voyou!_), who
would otherwise have left her lamenting? Was he not the most wonderful
of God's creatures?--Mme. Bidoux, although not quite appreciating
Aristide's quixotic delicacy, took the forlorn and fragile wisp of
misery to her capacious bosom. She made her free of the cabbages and
charcoal. She provided her, at a risible charge, with succulent meals.
She told her tales of her father and mother, of her neighbours, of the
domestic differences between the concierge and his wife (soothing idyll
for an Ariadne!), of the dirty thief of a brigadier of gendarmes, of her
bodily ailments--her body was so large that they were many; of the
picturesque death, through apoplexy, of the late M. Bidoux; the brave
woman, in short, gave her of her heart's best. As far as human hearts
could provide a bed for Fleurette, that bed was of roses. As a matter of
brutal fact, it was narrow and nubbly, and the little uncarpeted room
was ten feet by seven; but to provide it Aristide went to his own bed
hungry. And if the bed of a man's hunger is not to be accounted as one
of roses, there ought to be a vote for the reduction of the Recording
Angel's salary.

It must not be imagined that Fleurette thought the bed hard. Her bed of
life from childhood had been nubbly. She never dreamed of complaining of
her little room under the stars, and she sat among the cabbages like a
tired lily, quite contented with her material lot. But she drooped and
drooped, and the cough returned and shook her; and Aristide, realizing
the sacredness of his charge, became a prey to anxious terrors.

"Mère Bidoux," said he, "she must have lots of good, nourishing, tender,
underdone beef, good fillets, and _entrecôtes saignantes_."

Mme. Bidoux sighed. She had a heart, but she also had a pocket which,
like Aristide's, was not over-filled. "That costs dear, my poor friend,"
she said.

"What does it matter what it costs? It is I who provide," said Aristide,
grandly.

And Aristide gave up tobacco and coffee and the mild refreshment at
cafés essential to the existence of every Frenchman, and degraded his
soul by taking half-franc tips from tourists--a source of income which,
as Director, M. le Directeur, Herr Direktor of the Agence Pujol, he had
hitherto scorned haughtily--in order to provide Fleurette with underdone
beefsteaks.

All his leisure he devoted to her. She represented something that
hitherto had not come into his life--something delicate, tender,
ethereal, something of woman that was exquisitely adorable, apart from
the flesh. Once, as he was sitting in the little shop, she touched his
temple lightly with her fingers.

"Ah, you are good to me, Aristide."

He felt a thrill such as no woman's touch had ever caused to pass
through him--far, far sweeter, cleaner, purer. If the _bon Dieu_ could
have given her to him then and there to be his wife, what bond could
have been holier? But he had bound himself by a sacred obligation. His
friend on his return should find him loyal.

"Who could help being good to you, little Fleurette?" said he. "Even an
Apache would not tread on a lily of the valley!"

"But you put me in water and tend me so carefully."

"So that you can be fresh whenever the dear Reginald comes back."

She sighed. "Tell me what I can do for you, my good Aristide."

"Keep well and happy and be a valiant little woman," said he.

Fleurette tried hard to be valiant; but the effort exhausted her
strength. As the days went on, even Aristide's inexhaustible
conversation failed to distract her from brooding. She lost the trick of
laughter. In the evenings, when he was most with her, she would sit,
either in the shop or in the little room at the back, her blue childish
eyes fixed on him wistfully. At first he tried to lure her into the gay
street; but walking tired her. He encouraged her to sit outside on the
pavement of the Rue Saint-Honoré and join with Mme. Bidoux in the gossip
of neighbours; but she listened to them with uncomprehending ears. In
despair Aristide, to coax a smile from her lips, practised his many
queer accomplishments. He conjured with cards; he juggled with oranges;
he had a mountebank's trick of putting one leg round his neck; he
imitated the voices of cats and pigs and ducks, till Mme. Bidoux held
her sides with mirth. He spent time and thought in elaborating what he
called _bonnes farces_, such as dressing himself up in Mme. Bidoux's
raiment and personifying a crabbed customer.

Fleurette smiled but listlessly at all these comicalities.

One day she was taken ill. A doctor, summoned, said many learned words
which Aristide and Mme. Bidoux tried hard to understand.

"But, after all, what is the matter with her?"

 [Illustration: ARISTIDE PRACTISED HIS MANY QUEER ACCOMPLISHMENTS]

"She has no strength to struggle. She wants happiness."

"Can you tell me the druggist's where that can be procured?" asked
Aristide.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "I tell you the truth. It is one of
those pulmonary cases. Happy, she will live; unhappy, she will die."

"My poor Mme. Bidoux, what is to be done?" asked Aristide, after the
doctor had gone off with his modest fee. "How are we to make her happy?"

"If only she could have news of her husband!" replied Mme. Bidoux.

Aristide's anxieties grew heavier. It was November, when knickerbockered
and culture-seeking tourists no longer fill the cheap hotels of Paris.
The profits of the Agence Pujol dwindled. Aristide lived on bread and
cheese, and foresaw the time when cheese would be a sinful luxury.
Meanwhile Fleurette had her nourishing food, and grew more like the
ghost of a lily every day. But her eyes followed Aristide, wherever he
went in her presence, as if he were the god of her salvation.

One day Aristide, with an unexpected franc or two in his pocket,
stopped in front of a _bureau de tabac_. A brown packet of caporal and
a book of cigarette-papers--a cigarette rolled--how good it would be!
He hesitated, and his glance fell on a collection of foreign stamps
exposed in the window. Among them were twelve Honduras stamps all
postmarked. He stared at them, fascinated.

"_Mon brave Aristide!_" he cried. "If the _bon Dieu_ does not send you
these vibrating inspirations, it is because you yourself have already
conceived them!"

He entered the shop and emerged, not with caporal and cigarette-papers,
but with the twelve Honduras stamps.

That night he sat up in his little bedroom at No. 213 bis, Rue
Saint-Honoré, until his candle failed, inditing a letter in English to
Fleurette. At the head of his paper he wrote "Hotel Rosario, Honduras."
And at the end of the letter he signed the name of Reginald Batterby.
Where Honduras was, he had but a vague idea. For Fleurette, at any rate,
it would be somewhere at the other end of the world, and she would not
question any want of accuracy in local detail. Just before the light
went out he read the letter through with great pride. Batterby alluded
to the many letters he had posted from remote parts of the globe, gave
glowing forecasts of the fortune that Honduras had in store for him,
reminded her that he had placed sufficient funds for her maintenance in
the hands of Aristide Pujol, and assured her that the time was not far
off when she would be summoned to join her devoted husband.

"Mme. Bidoux was right," said he, before going to sleep. "This is the
only way to make her happy."

The next day Fleurette received the letter. The envelope bore the
postmarked Honduras stamp. It had been rubbed on the dusty pavement to
take off the newness. It was in her husband's handwriting. There was no
mistake about it--it was a letter from Honduras.

"Are you happier now, little doubting female St. Thomas that you are?"
cried Aristide when she had told him the news.

She smiled at him out of grateful eyes, and touched his hand.

"Much happier, _mon bon ami_," she said, gently.

Later in the day she handed him a letter addressed to Batterby. It had
no stamp.

"Will you post this for me, Aristide?"

Aristide put the letter in his pocket and turned sharply away, lest she
should see a sudden rush of tears. He had not counted on this innocent
trustfulness. He went to his room. The poor little letter! He had not
the heart to destroy it. No; he would keep it till Batterby came; it was
not his to destroy. So he threw it into a drawer.

Having once begun the deception, however, he thought it necessary to
continue. Every week, therefore, he invented a letter from Batterby. To
interest her he drew upon his Provençal imagination. He described
combats with crocodiles, lion-hunts, feasts with terrific savages from
the interior, who brought their lady wives chastely clad in petticoats
made out of human teeth; he drew pictures of the town, a kind of
palm-shaded Paris by the sea, where one ate ortolans and oysters as big
as soup-plates, and where Chinamen with pigtails rode about the streets
on camels. It was not a correct description of Honduras, but, all the
same, an exotic atmosphere stimulating and captivating rose from the
pages. With this it was necessary to combine expressions of affection.
At first it was difficult. Essential delicacy restrained him. He had
also to keep in mind Batterby's vernacular. To address Fleurette,
impalpable creation of fairyland, as "old girl" was particularly
distasteful. By degrees, however, the artist prevailed. And then at last
the man himself took to forgetting the imaginary writer and poured out
words of love, warm, true, and passionate.

And every week Fleurette would smile and tell him the wondrous news, and
would put into his hands an unstamped letter to post, which he, with a
wrench of the heart, would add to the collection in the drawer.

Once she said, diffidently, with an unwonted blush and her pale blue
eyes swimming: "I write English so badly. Won't you read the letter and
correct my mistakes?"

But Aristide laughed and licked the flap of the envelope and closed it.
"What has love to do with spelling and grammar? The good Reginald would
prefer your bad English to all the turned phrases of the Académie
Française."

"It is as you like, Aristide," said Fleurette, with wistful eyes.

Yet, in spite of the weekly letters, Fleurette continued to droop. The
winter came, and Fleurette was no longer able to stay among the cabbages
of Mme. Bidoux. She lay on her bed in the little room, ten feet by
seven, away, away at the top of the house in the Rue Saint Honoré. The
doctor, informed of her comparative happiness, again shrugged his
shoulders. There was nothing more to be done.

"She is dying, monsieur, for want of strength to live."

Then Aristide went about with a great heartache. Fleurette would die;
she would never see the man she loved again. What would he say when he
returned and learned the tragic story? He would not even know that
Aristide, loving her, had been loyal to him. When the Director of the
Agence Pujol personally conducted the clients of the Hôtel du Soleil et
de l'Ecosse to the Grand Trianon and pointed out the bed of the Empress
Josephine he nearly broke down.

"What is the Empress doing now?"

What was Fleurette doing now? Going to join the Empress in the world of
shadows.

The tourists talked after the manner of their kind.

"She must have found the bed very hard, poor dear."

"Give me an iron bedstead and a good old spring mattress."

"Ah, but, my dear sir, you forget. The Empress's bed was slung on the
back of tame panthers which Napoleon brought from Egypt."

It was hard to jest convincingly to the knickerbockered with death in
one's soul.

"Most belovèd little Flower," ran the last letter that Fleurette
received, "I have just had a cable from Aristide saying that you are
very ill. I will come to you as soon as I can. _Ces petits yeux de
pervenche_--I am learning your language here, you see--haunt me day and
night ..." etcetera, etcetera.

Aristide went up to her room with a great bunch of chrysanthemums. The
letter peeped from under the pillow. Fleurette was very weak. Mme.
Bidoux, who, during Fleurette's illness, had allowed her green grocery
business to be personally conducted to the deuce by a youth of sixteen
very much in love with the lady who sold sausages and other
_charcuterie_ next door, had spread out the fortune-telling cards on
the bed and was prophesying mendaciously. Fleurette took the flowers
and clasped them to her bosom.

"No letter for _ce cher Reginald_?"

She shook her head. "I can write no more," she whispered.

She closed her eyes. Presently she said, in a low voice:--

"Aristide--if you kiss me, I think I can go to sleep."

He bent down to kiss her forehead. A fragile arm twined itself about his
neck and he kissed her on the lips.

"She is sleeping," said Mme. Bidoux, after a while.

Aristide tiptoed out of the room.

And so died Fleurette. Aristide borrowed money from the kind-hearted
Bocardon for a beautiful funeral, and Mme. Bidoux and Bocardon and a few
neighbours and himself saw her laid to rest. When they got back to the
Rue Saint Honoré he told Mme. Bidoux about the letters. She wept and
clasped him, weeping too, in her kind, fat old arms.

The next evening Aristide, coming back from his day's work at the Hôtel
du Soleil et de l'Ecosse, was confronted in the shop by Mme. Bidoux,
hands on broad hips.

"_Tiens, mon petit_," she said, without preliminary greeting. "You are
an angel. I knew it. But that a man's an angel is no reason for his
being an imbecile. Read this."

She plucked a paper from her apron pocket and thrust it into his hand.
He read it, and blinked in amazement.

"Where did you get this, Mère Bidoux?"

"Where I got many more. In your drawer. The letters you were saving for
this infamous scoundrel. I wanted to know what she had written to him."

"Mère Bidoux!" cried Aristide. "Those letters were sacred!"

"Bah!" said Mme. Bidoux, unabashed. "There is nothing sacred to a sapper
or an old grandmother who loves an imbecile. I have read the letters,
_et voilà, et voilà, et voilà!_" And she emptied her pockets of all the
letters, minus the envelopes, that Fleurette had written.

And, after one swift glance at the first letter, Aristide had no
compunction in reading. They were all addressed to himself.

They were very short, ill-written in a poor little uncultivated hand.
But they all contained one message, that of her love for Aristide.
Whatever illusions she may have had concerning Batterby had soon
vanished. She knew, with the unerring instinct of woman, that he had
betrayed and deserted her. Aristide's pious fraud had never deceived her
for a second. Too gentle, too timid to let him know what was in her
heart, she had written the secret patiently week after week, hoping
every time that curiosity, or pity, or something--she knew not
what--would induce him to open the idle letter, and wondering in her
simple peasant's soul at the delicacy that caused him to refrain. Once
she had boldly given him the envelope unclosed.

 [Illustration: HE READ IT, AND BLINKED IN AMAZEMENT]

"She died for want of love, _parbleu_," said Aristide, "and there was
mine quivering in my heart and trembling on my lips all the time.... She
had _des yeux de pervenche_. Ah! _nom d'un chien!_ It is only with me
that Providence plays such tricks."

He walked to the window and looked out into the grey street. Presently I
heard him murmuring the words of the old French song:--

    Elle est morte en février;
        Pauvre Colinette!



VII

THE ADVENTURE OF THE MIRACLE


You have seen how Aristide, by attaching himself to the Hôtel du Soleil
et de l'Ecosse as a kind of glorified courier, had founded the Agence
Pujol. As he, personally, was the Agence, and the Agence was he, it
happened that when he was not in attendance at the hotel, the Agence
faded into space, and when he made his appearance in the vestibule and
hung up his placard by the bureau, the Agence at once burst again into
the splendour of existence. Apparently the fitful career of the Agence
Pujol lasted some years. Whenever a chance of more remunerative
employment turned up, Aristide took it and dissolved the Agence.
Whenever outrageous fortune chivied him with slings and arrows penniless
to Paris, there was always the Agence waiting to be resuscitated.

It was during one of these periodic flourishings of the Agence Pujol
that Aristide met the Ducksmiths.

Business was slack, few guests were at the hotel, and of those few none
desired to be personally conducted to the Louvre or Notre Dame or the
monument in the Place de la Bastille. They mostly wore the placid
expression of folks engaged in business affairs instead of the worried
look of pleasure-seekers.

"My good Bocardon," said Aristide, lounging by the bureau and addressing
his friend the manager, "this is becoming desperate. In another minute I
shall take you out by main force and show you the Pont Neuf."

At that moment the door of the stuffy salon opened, and a travelling
Briton, whom Aristide had not seen before, advanced to the bureau and
inquired his way to the Madeleine. Aristide turned on him like a flash.

"Sir," said he, extracting documents from his pockets with lightning
rapidity, "nothing would give me greater pleasure than to conduct you
thither. My card. My tariff. My advertisement." He pointed to the
placard. "I am the managing director of the Agence Pujol, under the
special patronage of this hotel. I undertake all travelling
arrangements, from the Moulin Rouge to the Pyramids, and, as you see, my
charges are moderate."

The Briton, holding the documents in a pudgy hand, looked at the
swift-gestured director with portentous solemnity. Then, with equal
solemnity, he looked at Bocardon.

"Monsieur Ducksmith," said the latter, "you can repose every confidence
in Monsieur Aristide Pujol."

"Umph!" said Mr. Ducksmith.

After another solemn inspection of Aristide, he stuck a pair of
gold-rimmed glasses on his fleshy nose and perused the documents. He was
a fat, heavy man of about fifty years of age, and his scanty hair was
turning grey. His puffy cheeks hung jowl-like, giving him the appearance
of some odd dog--a similarity greatly intensified by the eye-sockets,
the lower lids of which were dragged down in the middle, showing the red
like a bloodhound's; but here the similarity ended, for the man's eyes,
dull and blue, had the unspeculative fixity of a rabbit's. His mouth,
small and weak, dribbled away at the corners into the jowls which, in
their turn, melted into two or three chins. He was decently dressed in
grey tweeds, and wore a diamond ring on his little finger.

"Umph!" said he, at last; and went back to the salon.

As soon as the door closed behind him Aristide sprang into an attitude
of indignation.

"Did you ever see such a bear! If I ever saw a bigger one I would eat
him without salt or pepper. _Mais nom d'un chien_, such people ought to
be made into sausages!"

"_Flègme britannique!_" laughed Bocardon.

Half an hour passed, and Mr. Ducksmith made no reappearance from the
salon. In the forlorn hope of a client Aristide went in after him. He
found Mr. Ducksmith, glasses on nose, reading a newspaper, and a plump,
black-haired lady, with an expressionless face, knitting a grey woollen
sock. Why they should be spending their first morning--and a crisp,
sunny morning, too--in Paris in the murky staleness of this awful little
salon, Aristide could not imagine. As he entered, Mr. Ducksmith regarded
him vacantly over the top of his gold-rimmed glasses.

"I have looked in," said Aristide, with his ingratiating smile, "to see
whether you are ready to go to the Madeleine."

"Madeleine?" the lady inquired, softly, pausing in her knitting.

"Madame," Aristide came forward, and, hand on heart, made her the lowest
of bows. "Madame, have I the honour of speaking to Madame Ducksmith?
Enchanted, madame, to make your acquaintance," he continued, after a
grunt from Mr. Ducksmith had assured him of the correctness of his
conjecture. "I am Monsieur Aristide Pujol, director of the Agence Pujol,
and my poor services are absolutely at your disposal."

He drew himself up, twisted his moustache, and met her eyes--they were
rather sad and tired--with the roguish mockery of his own. She turned to
her husband.

"Are you thinking of going to the Madeleine, Bartholomew?"

"I am, Henrietta," said he. "I have decided to do it. And I have also
decided to put ourselves in the charge of this gentleman. Mrs. Ducksmith
and I are accustomed to all the conveniences of travel--I may say that
we are great travellers--and I leave it to you to make the necessary
arrangements. I prefer to travel at so much per head per day."

He spoke in a wheezy, solemn monotone, from which all elements of life
and joy seemed to have been eliminated. His wife's voice, though softer
in timbre, was likewise devoid of colour.

"My husband finds that it saves us from responsibilities," she remarked.

"And over-charges, and the necessity of learning foreign languages,
which at our time of life would be difficult. During all our travels we
have not been to Paris before, owing to the impossibility of finding a
personally-conducted tour of an adequate class."

"Then, my dear sir," cried Aristide, "it is Providence itself that has
put you in the way of the Agence Pujol. I will now conduct you to the
Madeleine without the least discomfort or danger."

"Put on your hat, Henrietta," said Mr. Ducksmith, "while this gentleman
and I discuss terms."

Mrs. Ducksmith gathered up her knitting and retired, Aristide dashing
to the door to open it for her. This gallantry surprised her ever so
little, for a faint flush came into her cheek and the shadow of a smile
into her eyes.

"I wish you to understand, Mr. Pujol," said Mr. Ducksmith, "that being,
I may say, a comparatively rich man, I can afford to pay for certain
luxuries; but I made a resolution many years ago, which has stood me in
good stead during my business life, that I would never be cheated. You
will find me liberal but just."

He was as good as his word. Aristide, who had never in his life
exploited another's wealth to his own advantage, suggested certain
terms, on the basis of so much per head per day, which Mr. Ducksmith
declared, with a sigh of relief, to be perfectly satisfactory.

"Perhaps," said he, after further conversation, "you will be good enough
to schedule out a month's railway tour through France, and give me an
inclusive estimate for the three of us. As I say, Mrs. Ducksmith and I
are great travellers--we have been to Norway, to Egypt, to Morocco and
the Canaries, to the Holy Land, to Rome, and lovely Lucerne--but we find
that attention to the trivial detail of travel militates against our
enjoyment."

"My dear sir," said Aristide, "trust in me, and your path and that of
the charming Mrs. Ducksmith will be strewn with roses."

Whereupon Mrs. Ducksmith appeared, arrayed for walking out, and
Aristide, having ordered a cab, drove with them to the Madeleine. They
alighted in front of the majestic flight of steps. Mr. Ducksmith stared
at the classical portico supported on its Corinthian columns with his
rabbit-like, unspeculative gaze--he had those filmy blue eyes that never
seem to wink--and after a moment or two turned away.

"Umph!" said he.

Mrs. Ducksmith, dutiful and silent, turned away also.

"This sacred edifice," Aristide began, in his best cicerone manner, "was
built, after a classic model, by the great Napoleon, as a Temple of
Fame. It was afterwards used as a church. You will observe--and, if you
care to, you can count, as a conscientious American lady did last
week--the fifty-six Corinthian columns. You will see they are Corinthian
by the acanthus leaves on the capitals. For the vulgar, who have no
architectural knowledge, I have _memoria technica_ for the instant
recognition of the three orders--Cabbages, Corinthian; horns, Ionic;
anything else, Doric. We will now mount the steps and inspect the
interior."

He was dashing off in his eager fashion, when Mr. Ducksmith laid a
detaining hand on his arm.

"No," said he, solemnly. "I disapprove of Popish interiors. Take us to
the next place."

 [Illustration: HE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE POINTED OUT THE MARVELS OF KUBLA
                KHAN'S PLEASURE-DOME TO A COUPLE OF GUINEA-PIGS]

He entered the waiting victoria. His wife meekly followed.

"I suppose the Louvre is the next place?" said Aristide.

"I leave it to you," said Mr. Ducksmith.

Aristide gave the order to the cabman and took the little seat in the
cab facing his employers. On the way down the Rue Royale and the Rue de
Rivoli he pointed out the various buildings of interest--Maxim's, the
Cercle Royal, the Ministère de la Marine, the Hôtel Continental. Two
expressionless faces, two pairs of unresponsive eyes, met his merry
glance. He might as well have pointed out the marvels of Kubla Khan's
pleasure-dome to a couple of guinea-pigs.

The cab stopped at the entrance to the galleries of the Louvre. They
entered and walked up the great staircase on the turn of which the
Winged Victory stands, with the wind of God in her vesture, proclaiming
to each beholder the deathless, ever-soaring, ever-conquering spirit of
man, and heralding the immortal glories of the souls, wind-swept
likewise by the wind of God, that are enshrined in the treasure-houses
beyond.

"There!" said Aristide.

"Umph! No head," said Mr. Ducksmith, passing it by with scarcely a
glance.

"Would it cost very much to get a new one?" asked Mrs. Ducksmith,
timidly. She was three or four paces behind her spouse.

"It would cost the blood and tears and laughter of the human race," said
Aristide.

("That was devilish good, wasn't it?" remarked Aristide, when telling me
this story. He always took care not to hide his light under the least
possibility of a bushel.)

The Ducksmiths looked at him in their lacklustre way, and allowed
themselves to be guided into the picture-galleries, vaguely hearing
Aristide's comments, scarcely glancing at the pictures, and
manifesting no sign of interest in anything whatever. From the Louvre
they drove to Notre Dame, where the same thing happened. The venerable
pile, standing imperishable amid the vicissitudes of centuries (the
phrase was that of the director of the Agence Pujol), stirred in their
bosoms no perceptible emotion. Mr. Ducksmith grunted and declined to
enter; Mrs. Ducksmith said nothing.

As with pictures and cathedrals, so it was with their food at lunch.
Beyond a solemn statement to the effect that in their quality of
practised travellers they made a point of eating the food and drinking
the wine of the country, Mr. Ducksmith did not allude to the meal. At
any rate, thought Aristide, they don't clamour for underdone chops and
tea. So far they were human. Nor did they maintain an awful silence
during the repast. On the contrary, Mr. Ducksmith loved to talk--in a
dismal, pompous way--chiefly of British politics. His method of
discourse was to place himself in the position of those in authority and
to declare what he would do in any given circumstances. Now, unless the
interlocutor adopts the same method and declares what _he_ would do,
conversation is apt to become one-sided. Aristide, having no notion of a
policy should he find himself exercising the functions of the British
Chancellor of the Exchequer, cheerfully tried to change the ground of
debate.

"What would you do, Mr. Ducksmith, if you were King of England?"

"I should try to rule the realm like a Christian statesman," replied Mr.
Ducksmith.

"I should have a devil of a time!" said Aristide.

"I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Ducksmith.

"I should have a--ah, I see--_pardon_. I should----" He looked from
one paralyzing face to the other, and threw out his arms. "_Parbleu!_"
said he, "I should decapitate your Mrs. Grundy, and make it compulsory
for bishops to dance once a week in Trafalgar Square. _Tiens!_ I would
have it a capital offence for any English cook to prepare hashed
mutton without a license, and I would banish all the bakers of the
kingdom to Siberia--ah! your English bread, which you have to eat
stale so as to avoid a horrible death!--and I would open two hundred
thousand _cafés_--_mon Dieu!_ how thirsty I have been there!--and I
would make every English work-girl do her hair properly, and I would
ordain that everybody should laugh three times a day, under pain of
imprisonment for life."

"I am afraid, Mr. Pujol," remarked Mr. Ducksmith, seriously, "you would
not be acting as a constitutional monarch. There is such a thing as the
British Constitution, which foreigners are bound to admire, even though
they may not understand."

"To be a king must be a great responsibility," said Mrs. Ducksmith.

"Madame," said Aristide, "you have uttered a profound truth." And to
himself he murmured, though he should not have done so, "_Nom de Dieu!
Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_"

After lunch they drove to Versailles, which they inspected in the same
apathetic fashion; then they returned to the hotel, where they
established themselves for the rest of the day in the airless salon, Mr.
Ducksmith reading English newspapers and his wife knitting a grey
woollen sock.

"_Mon vieux!_" said Aristide to Bocardon, "they are people of a
nightmare. They are automata endowed with the faculty of digestion. _Ce
sont des gens invraisemblables._"

Paris providing them, apparently, with no entertainment, they started,
after a couple of days, _Aristide duce et auspice Pujol_, on their
railway tour through France, to Aristide a pilgrimage of unimaginable
depression. They began with Chartres, continued with the Châteaux of the
Loire, and began to work their way south. Nothing that Aristide could do
roused them from their apathy. They were exasperatingly docile, made few
complaints, got up, entrained, detrained, fed, excursioned, slept, just
as they were bidden. But they looked at nothing, enjoyed nothing (save
perhaps English newspapers and knitting), and uttered nothing by way of
criticism or appreciation when Aristide attempted to review the wonders
through which they had passed. They did not care to know the history,
authentic or Pujolic, of any place they visited; they were impressed by
no scene of grandeur, no corner of exquisite beauty. To go on and on, in
a dull, non-sentient way, so long as they were spared all forethought,
all trouble, all afterthought, seemed to be their ideal of travel.
Sometimes Aristide, after a fruitless effort to capture their interest,
would hold his head, wondering whether he or the Ducksmith couple were
insane. It was a dragon-fly personally conducting two moles through a
rose-garden.

Once only, during the early part of their journey, did a gleam of
joyousness pierce the dull glaze of Mr. Ducksmith's eyes. He had
procured from the bookstall of a station a pile of English newspapers,
and was reading them in the train, while his wife knitted the
interminable sock. Suddenly he folded a _Daily Telegraph_, and handed
it over to Aristide so that he should see nothing but a half-page
advertisement. The great capitals leaped to Aristide's eyes:--

                 "DUCKSMITH'S DELICATE JAMS."

"I am _the_ Ducksmith," said he. "I started and built up the business.
When I found that I could retire, I turned it into a limited liability
company, and now I am free and rich and able to enjoy the advantages of
foreign travel."

Mrs. Ducksmith started, sighed, and dropped a stitch.

"Did you also make pickles?" asked Aristide.

"I did manufacture pickles, but I made my name in jam. In the trade you
will find it an honoured one."

"It is that in every nursery in Europe," Aristide declared, with polite
hyperbole.

"I have done my best to deserve my reputation," said Mr. Ducksmith, as
impervious to flattery as to impressions of beauty.

"_Pécaïre!_" said Aristide to himself, "how can I galvanize these
corpses?"

As the soulless days went by this problem grew to be Aristide's main
solicitude. He felt strangled, choked, borne down by an intolerable
weight. What could he do to stir their vitality? Should he fire off
pistols behind them, just to see them jump? But would they jump? Would
not Mr. Ducksmith merely turn his rabbit-eyes, set in their bloodhound
sockets, vacantly on him, and assume that the detonations were part of
the tour's programme? Could he not fill him up with conflicting
alcohols, and see what inebriety would do for him? But Mr. Ducksmith
declined insidious potations. He drank only at meal-times, and
sparingly. Aristide prayed that some Thaïs might come along, cast her
spell upon him, and induce him to wink. He himself was powerless. His
raciest stories fell on dull ears; none of his jokes called forth a
smile. At last, having taken them to nearly all the historic châteaux of
Touraine, without eliciting one cry of admiration, he gave Mr. Ducksmith
up in despair and devoted his attention to the lady.

Mrs. Ducksmith parted her smooth black hair in the middle and fastened
it in a knob at the back of her head. Her clothes were good and new, but
some desolate dressmaker had contrived to invest them with an air of
hopeless dowdiness. At her bosom she wore a great brooch, containing
intertwined locks of a grandfather and grandmother long since defunct.
Her mind was as drearily equipped as her person. She had a vague idea
that they were travelling in France; but if Aristide had told her that
it was Japan she would have meekly accepted the information. She had no
opinions. Still she was a woman, and Aristide, firm in his conviction
that when it comes to love-making all women are the same, proceeded
forthwith to make love to her.

"Madame," said he, one morning--she was knitting in the vestibule of the
Hôtel du Faisan at Tours, Mr. Ducksmith being engaged, as usual, in the
salon with his newspapers--"how much more charming that beautiful grey
dress would be if it had a spot of colour."

His audacious hand placed a deep crimson rose against her corsage, and
he stood away at arm's length, his head on one side, judging the effect.

"Magnificent! If madame would only do me the honour to wear it."

Mrs. Ducksmith took the flower hesitatingly.

"I'm afraid my husband does not like colour," she said.

"He must be taught," cried Aristide. "You must teach him. I must teach
him. Let us begin at once. Here is a pin."

He held the pin delicately between finger and thumb, and controlled her
with his roguish eyes. She took the pin and fixed the rose to her dress.

"I don't know what Mr. Ducksmith will say."

"What he ought to say, madame, is 'Bountiful Providence, I thank Thee
for giving me such a beautiful wife.'"

Mrs. Ducksmith blushed and, to conceal her face, bent it over her
resumed knitting. She made woman's time-honoured response.

"I don't think you ought to say such things, Mr. Pujol."

"Ah, madame," said he, lowering his voice; "I have tried not to; but,
_que voulez-vous_, it was stronger than I. When I see you going about
like a little grey mouse"--the lady weighed at least twelve stone--"you,
who ought to be ravishing the eyes of mankind, I feel indignation
here"--he thumped his chest; "my Provençal heart is stirred. It is
enough to make one weep."

"I don't quite understand you, Mr. Pujol," she said, dropping stitches
recklessly.

"Ah, madame," he whispered--and the rascal's whisper on such occasions
could be very seductive--"that I will never believe."

"I am too old to dress myself up in fine clothes," she murmured.

"That's an illusion," said he, with a wide-flung gesture, "that will
vanish at the first experiment."

Mr. Ducksmith emerged from the salon, _Daily Telegraph_ in hand. Mrs.
Ducksmith shot a timid glance at him and the knitting needles clicked
together nervously. But the vacant eyes of the heavy man seemed no more
to note the rose on her bosom than they noted any point of beauty in
landscape or building.

Aristide went away chuckling, highly diverted by the success of his
first effort. He had touched some hidden springs of feeling. Whatever
might happen, at any rate, for the remainder of the tour he would not
have to spend his emotional force in vain attempts to knock sparks out
of a jelly-fish. He noticed with delight that at dinner that evening
Mrs. Ducksmith, still wearing the rose, had modified the rigid sweep
of her hair from the mid-parting. It gave just a wavy hint of
coquetry. He made her a little bow and whispered, "Charming!"
Whereupon she coloured and dropped her eyes. And during the meal,
while Mr. Ducksmith discoursed on bounty-fed sugar, his wife and
Aristide exchanged, across the table, the glances of conspirators.
After dinner he approached her.

"Madame, may I have the privilege of showing you the moon of Touraine?"

She laid down her knitting. "Bartholomew, will you come out?"

He looked at her over his glasses and shook his head.

"What is the good of looking at moonshine? The moon itself I have
already seen."

So Aristide and Mrs. Ducksmith sat by themselves outside the hotel, and
he expounded to her the beauty of moonlight and its intoxicating effect
on folks in love.

"Wouldn't you like," said he, "to be lying on that white burnished cloud
with your beloved kissing your feet?"

"What odd things you think of."

"But wouldn't you?" he insinuated.

Her bosom heaved and swelled on a sigh. She watched the strip of silver
for a while and then murmured a wistful "Yes."

"I can tell you of many odd things," said Aristide. "I can tell you how
flowers sing and what colour there is in the notes of birds. And how a
cornfield laughs, and how the face of a woman who loves can outdazzle
the sun. _Chère madame_," he went on, after a pause, touching her little
plump hand, "you have been hungering for beauty and thirsting for
sympathy all your life. Isn't that so?"

She nodded.

"You have always been misunderstood."

A tear fell. Our rascal saw the glistening drop with peculiar
satisfaction. Poor Mrs. Ducksmith! It was a child's game. _Enfin_,
what woman could resist him? He had, however, one transitory qualm of
conscience, for, with all his vagaries, Aristide was a kindly and
honest man. Was it right to disturb those placid depths? Was it right
to fill this woman with romantic aspirations that could never be
gratified? He himself had not the slightest intention of playing
Lothario and of wrecking the peace of the Ducksmith household. The
realization of the saint-like purity of his aims reassured him. When
he wanted to make love to a woman, _pour tout de bon_, it would not be
to Mrs. Ducksmith.

"Bah!" said he to himself. "I am doing a noble and disinterested act. I
am restoring sight to the blind. I am giving life to one in a state of
suspended animation. _Tron de l'Air!_ I am playing the part of a
soul-reviver! And, _parbleu!_ it isn't Jean or Jacques that can do that.
It takes an Aristide Pujol!"

So, having persuaded himself, in his Southern way, that he was executing
an almost divine mission, he continued, with a zest now sharpened by an
approving conscience, to revive Mrs. Ducksmith's soul.

The poor lady, who had suffered the blighting influence of Mr. Ducksmith
for twenty years with never a ray of counteracting warmth from the
outside, expanded like a flower to the sun under the soul-reviving
process. Day by day she exhibited some fresh timid coquetry in dress and
manner. Gradually she began to respond to Aristide's suggestions of
beauty in natural scenery and exquisite building. On the ramparts of
Angoulême, daintiest of towns in France, she gazed at the smiling
valleys of the Charente and the Son stretching away below, and of her
own accord touched his arm lightly and said: "How beautiful!" She
appealed to her husband.

"Umph!" said he.

Once more (it had become a habit) she exchanged glances with Aristide.
He drew her a little farther along, under pretext of pointing out the
dreamy sweep of the Charente.

"If he appreciates nothing at all, why on earth does he travel?"

Her eyelids fluttered upwards for a fraction of a second.

"It's his mania," she said. "He can never rest at home. He must always
be going on--on."

"How can you endure it?" he asked.

She sighed. "It is better now that you can teach me how to look at
things."

"Good!" thought Aristide. "When I leave them she can teach him to look
at things and revive his soul. Truly I deserve a halo."

As Mr. Ducksmith appeared to be entirely unperceptive of his wife's
spiritual expansion, Aristide grew bolder in his apostolate. He
complimented Mrs. Ducksmith to his face. He presented her daily with
flowers. He scarcely waited for the heavy man's back to be turned to
make love to her. If she did not believe that she was the most
beautiful, the most ravishing, the most delicate-souled woman in the
world, it was through no fault of Aristide. Mr. Ducksmith went his
pompous, unseeing way. At every stopping-place stacks of English
daily papers awaited him. Sometimes, while Aristide was showing them
the sights of a town--to which, by the way, he insisted on being
conducted--he would extract a newspaper from his pocket and read with
dull and dogged stupidity. Once Aristide caught him reading the
advertisements for cooks and housemaids. In these circumstances Mrs.
Ducksmith spiritually expanded at an alarming rate; and,
correspondingly, dwindled the progress of Mr. Ducksmith's sock.

They arrived at Perigueux, in Perigord, land of truffles, one morning,
in time for lunch. Towards the end of the meal the _maître d'hôtel_
helped them to great slabs of _pâté de foie gras_, made in the
house--most of the hotel-keepers in Perigord make _pâté de foie gras_,
both for home consumption and for exportation--and waited expectant of
their appreciation. He was not disappointed. Mr. Ducksmith, after a
hesitating glance at the first mouthful, swallowed it, greedily devoured
his slab, and, after pointing to his empty plate, said, solemnly:--

"_Plou._"

Like Oliver, he asked for more.

"_Tiens!_" thought Aristide, astounded. "Is he, too, developing a soul?"

But, alas! there were no signs of it when they went their dreary round
of the town in the usual ramshackle open cab. The cathedral of
Saint-Front, extolled by Aristide and restored by Abadie--a terrible
fellow who has capped with tops of pepper-castors every pre-Gothic
building in France--gave him no thrill; nor did the picturesque,
tumble-down ancient buildings on the banks of the Dordogne, nor the
delicate Renaissance façades in the cool, narrow Rue du Lys.

"We will now go back to the hotel," said Mr. Ducksmith.

"But have we seen it all?" asked his wife.

"By no means," said Aristide.

"We will go back to the hotel," repeated her husband, in his
expressionless tones. "I have seen enough of Perigueux."

This was final. They drove back to the hotel. Mr. Ducksmith, without a
word, went straight into the salon, leaving Aristide and his wife
standing in the vestibule.

"And you, madame," said Aristide; "are you going to sacrifice the glory
of God's sunshine to the manufacture of woollen socks?"

She smiled--she had caught the trick at last--and said, in happy
submission: "What would you have me do?"

With one hand he clasped her arm; with the other, in a superb gesture,
he indicated the sunlit world outside.

"Let us drain together," cried he, "the loveliness of Perigueux to its
dregs!"

Greatly daring, she followed him. It was a rapturous escapade--the
first adventure of her life. She turned her comely face to him and he
saw smiles round her lips and laughter in her eyes. Aristide, worker
of miracles, strutted by her side choke-full of vanity. They wandered
through the picturesque streets of the old town with the gaiety of
truant children, peeping through iron gateways into old courtyards,
venturing their heads into the murk of black stairways, talking (on
the part of Aristide) with mothers who nursed chuckling babes on their
doorsteps, crossing the thresholds, hitherto taboo, of churches, and
meeting the mystery of coloured glass and shadows and the heavy smell
of incense.

Her hand was on his arm when they entered the flagged courtyard of an
ancient palace, a stately medley of the centuries, with wrought
ironwork in the balconies, tourelles, oriels, exquisite Renaissance
ornaments on architraves, and a great central Gothic doorway, with
great window-openings above, through which was visible the stone
staircase of honour leading to the upper floors. In a corner stood a
mediæval well, the sides curiously carved. One side of the courtyard
blazed in sunshine, the other lay cool and grey in shadow. Not a human
form or voice troubled the serenity of the spot. On a stone bench
against the shady wall Aristide and Mrs. Ducksmith sat down to rest.

"_Voilà!_" said Aristide. "Here one can suck in all the past like an
omelette. They had the feeling for beauty, those old fellows."

"I have wasted twenty years of my life," said Mrs. Ducksmith, with a
sigh. "Why didn't I meet someone like you when I was young? Ah, you
don't know what my life has been, Mr. Pujol."

"Why not Aristide when we are alone? Why not, Henriette?"

He too had the sense of adventure, and his eyes were more than usually
compelling and his voice more seductive. For some reason or other,
undivined by Aristide--over-excitement of nerves, perhaps--she burst
into tears.

"_Henriette! Henriette, ne pleurez pas._"

His arm crept round her--he knew not how; her head sank on his shoulder,
she knew not why--faithlessness to her lord was as far from her thoughts
as murder or arson; but for one poor little moment in a lifetime it is
good to weep on someone's shoulder and to have someone's sympathetic arm
around one's waist.

"_Pauvre petite femme!_ And is it love she is pining for?"

She sobbed; he lifted her chin with his free hand--and what less could
mortal apostle do?--he kissed her on her wet cheek.

A bellow like that of an angry bull caused them to start asunder. They
looked up, and there was Mr. Ducksmith within a few yards of them, his
face aflame, his rabbit's eyes on fire with rage. He advanced, shook his
fists in their faces.

"I've caught you! At last, after twenty years, I've caught you!"

"Monsieur," cried Aristide, starting up, "allow me to explain."

He swept Aristide aside like an intercepting willow-branch, and poured
forth a torrent of furious speech upon his wife.

"I have hated you for twenty years. Day by day I have hated you more.
I've watched you, watched you, watched you! But, you sly jade, you've
been too clever for me till now. Yes; I followed you from the hotel. I
dogged you. I foresaw what would happen. Now the end has come. I've
hated you for twenty years--ever since you first betrayed me----"

Mrs. Ducksmith, who had sat with overwhelmed head in her hands, started
bolt upright, and looked at him like one thunderstruck.

"I betrayed you?" she gasped, in bewilderment. "My God! When? How? What
do you mean?"

He laughed--for the first time since Aristide had known him--but it was
a ghastly laugh, that made the jowls of his cheeks spread horribly to
his ears; and again he flooded the calm, stately courtyard with the
raging violence of words. The veneer of easy life fell from him. He
became the low-born, petty tradesman, using the language of the hands
of his jam factory. No, he had never told her. He had awaited his
chance. Now he had found it. He called her names....

 [Illustration: "I'VE CAUGHT YOU! AT LAST, AFTER TWENTY YEARS, I'VE
                CAUGHT YOU!"]

Aristide interposed, his Southern being athrob with the insults heaped
upon the woman.

"Say that again, monsieur," he shouted, "and I will take you up in my
arms like a sheep and throw you down that well."

The two men glared at one another, Aristide standing bent, with crooked
fingers, ready to spring at the other's throat. The woman threw herself
between them.

"For Heaven's sake," she cried, "listen to me! I have done no wrong. I
have done no wrong now--I never did you wrong, so help me God!"

Mr. Ducksmith laughed again, and his laugh re-echoed round the quiet
walls and up the vast staircase of honour.

"You'd be a fool not to say it. But now I've done with you. Here, you,
sir. Take her away--do what you like with her; I'll divorce her. I'll
give you a thousand pounds never to see her again."

"_Goujat! Triple goujat!_" cried Aristide, more incensed than ever at
this final insult.

Mrs. Ducksmith, deadly white, swayed sideways, and Aristide caught her
in his arms and dragged her to the stone bench. The fat, heavy man
looked at them for a second, laughed again, and sped through the
_porte-cochère_. Mrs. Ducksmith quickly recovered from her fainting
attack, and gently pushed the solicitous Aristide away.

"Merciful Heaven!" she murmured. "What is to become of me?"

The last person to answer the question was Aristide. For once in his
adventurous life resource failed him. He stared at the woman for whom he
cared not the snap of a finger, and who, he knew, cared not the snap of
a finger for him, aghast at the havoc he had wrought. If he had set out
to arouse emotion in these two sluggish breasts he had done so with a
vengeance. He had thought he was amusing himself with a toy cannon, and
he had fired a charge of dynamite.

He questioned her almost stupidly--for a man in the comic mask does not
readily attune himself to tragedy. She answered with the desolate
frankness of a lost soul. And then the whole meaning--or the lack of
meaning--of their inanimate lives was revealed to him. Absolute
estrangement had followed the birth of their child nearly twenty years
ago. The child had died after a few weeks. Since then he saw--and the
generous blood of his heart froze as the vision came to him--that the
vulgar, half-sentient, rabbit-eyed bloodhound of a man had nursed an
unexpressed, dull, implacable resentment against the woman. It did not
matter that the man's suspicion was vain. To Aristide the woman's blank
amazement at the preposterous charge was proof enough; to the man the
thing was real. For nearly twenty years the man had suffered the cancer
to eat away his vitals, and he had watched and watched his blameless
wife, until now, at last, he had caught her in this folly. No wonder he
could not rest at home; no wonder he was driven, Io-wise, on and on,
although he hated travel and all its discomforts, knew no word of a
foreign language, knew no scrap of history, had no sense of beauty, was
utterly ignorant, as every single one of our expensively State-educated
English lower classes is, of everything that matters on God's earth; no
wonder that, in the unfamiliarity of foreign lands, feeling as helpless
as a ballet-dancer in a cavalry charge, he looked to Cook, or Lunn, or
the Agence Pujol to carry him through his uninspired pilgrimage. For
twenty years he had shown no sign of joy or sorrow or anger, scarcely
even of pleasure or annoyance. A tortoise could not have been more
unemotional. The unsuspected volcano had slumbered. To-day came
disastrous eruption. And what was a mere laughing, crying child of
a man like Aristide Pujol in front of a Ducksmith volcano?

"What is to become of me?" wailed Mrs. Ducksmith again.

"_Ma foi!_" said Aristide, with a shrug of his shoulders. "What's going
to become of anyone? Who can foretell what will happen in a minute's
time? _Tiens!_" he added, kindly laying his hand on the sobbing woman's
shoulder. "Be comforted, my poor Henriette. Just as nothing in this
world is as good as we hope, so nothing is as bad as we fear. _Voyons!_
All is not lost yet. We must return to the hotel."

She weepingly acquiesced. They walked through the quiet streets like
children whose truancy had been discovered and who were creeping back to
condign punishment at school. When they reached the hotel, Mrs.
Ducksmith went straight up to the woman's haven, her bedroom.

Aristide tugged at his Vandyke beard in dire perplexity. The situation
was too pregnant with tragedy for him to run away and leave the pair
to deal with it as best they could. But what was he to do? He sat down
in the vestibule and tried to think. The landlord, an unstoppable
gramophone of garrulity, entering by the street-door and bearing down
upon him, put him to flight. He, too, sought his bedroom, a cool
apartment with a balcony outside the French window. On this balcony,
which stretched along the whole range of first-floor bedrooms, he
stood for a while, pondering deeply. Then, in an absent way, he
overstepped the limit of his own room-frontage. A queer sound startled
him. He paused, glanced through the open window, and there he saw a
sight which for the moment paralyzed him.

 [Illustration: THERE HE SAW A SIGHT WHICH FOR THE MOMENT PARALYZED HIM]

Recovering command of his muscles, he tiptoed his way back. He
remembered now that the three rooms adjoined. Next to his was Mr.
Ducksmith's, and then came Mrs. Ducksmith's. It was Mr. Ducksmith whom
he had seen. Suddenly his dark face became luminous with laughter, his
eyes glowed, he threw his hat in the air and danced with glee about the
room. Having thus worked off the first intoxication of his idea, he
flung his few articles of attire and toilet necessaries into his bag,
strapped it, and darted, in his dragon-fly way, into the corridor and
tapped softly at Mrs. Ducksmith's door. She opened it. He put his finger
to his lips.

"Madame," he whispered, bringing to bear on her all the mocking
magnetism of his eyes, "if you value your happiness you will do exactly
what I tell you. You will obey me implicitly. You must not ask
questions. Pack your trunks at once. In ten minutes' time the porter
will come for them."

She looked at him with a scared face. "But what am I going to do?"

"You are going to revenge yourself on your husband."

"But I don't want to," she replied, piteously.

"I do," said he. "Begin, _chère madame_. Every moment is precious."

In a state of stupefied terror the poor woman obeyed him. He saw her
start seriously on her task and then went downstairs, where he held a
violent and gesticulatory conversation with the landlord and with a man
in a green baize apron summoned from some dim lair of the hotel. After
that he lit a cigarette and smoked feverishly, walking up and down the
pavement. In ten minutes' time his luggage with that of Mrs. Ducksmith
was placed upon the cab. Mrs. Ducksmith appeared trembling and
tear-stained in the vestibule.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man in the green baize apron knocked at Mr. Ducksmith's door and
entered the room.

"I have come for the baggage of monsieur," said he.

"Baggage? What baggage?" asked Mr. Ducksmith, sitting up.

"I have descended the baggage of Monsieur Pujol," said the porter in his
stumbling English, "and of madame, and put them in a cab, and I
naturally thought monsieur was going away, too."

"Going away!" He rubbed his eyes, glared at the porter, and dashed into
his wife's room. It was empty. He dashed into Aristide's room. It was
empty, too. Shrieking inarticulate anathema, he rushed downstairs, the
man in the green baize apron following at his heels.

Not a soul was in the vestibule. No cab was at the door. Mr. Ducksmith
turned upon his stupefied satellite.

"Where are they?"

"They must have gone already. I filled the cab. Perhaps Monsieur Pujol
and madame have gone before to make arrangements."

"Where have they gone to?"

"In Perigueux there is nowhere to go to with baggage but the railway
station."

A decrepit vehicle with a gaudy linen canopy hove in sight. Mr.
Ducksmith hailed it as the last victims of the Flood must have hailed
the Ark. He sprang into it and drove to the station.

There, in the _salle d'attente_, he found Aristide mounting guard over
his wife's luggage. He hurled his immense bulk at his betrayer.

"You blackguard! Where is my wife?"

"Monsieur," said Aristide, puffing a cigarette, sublimely impudent and
debonair, "I decline to answer any questions. Your wife is no longer
your wife. You offered me a thousand pounds to take her away. I am
taking her away. I did not deign to disturb you for such a trifle as a
thousand pounds, but, since you are here----"

He smiled engagingly and held out his curved palm. Mr. Ducksmith foamed
at the corners of the small mouth that disappeared into the bloodhound
jowls.

"My wife!" he shouted. "If you don't want me to throw you down and
trample on you."

A band of loungers, railway officials, peasants, and other travellers
awaiting their trains, gathered round. As the altercation was conducted
in English, which they did not understand, they could only hope for the
commencement of physical hostilities.

"My dear sir," said Aristide, "I do not understand you. For twenty years
you hold an innocent and virtuous woman under an infamous suspicion. She
meets a sympathetic soul, and you come across her pouring into his ear
the love and despair of a lifetime. You have more suspicion. You tell me
you will give me a thousand pounds to go away with her. I take you at
your word. And now you want to stamp on me. _Ma foi!_ it is not
reasonable."

Mr. Ducksmith seized him by the lapels of his coat. A gasp of
expectation went round the crowd. But Aristide recognized an agonized
appeal in the eyes now bloodshot.

"My wife!" he said hoarsely. "I want my wife. I can't live without her.
Give her back to me. Where is she?"

"You had better search the station," said Aristide.

The heavy man unconsciously shook him in his powerful grasp, as a child
might shake a doll.

"Give her to me! Give her to me, I say! She won't regret it."

 [Illustration: MR. DUCKSMITH SEIZED HIM BY THE LAPELS OF HIS COAT]

"You swear that?" asked Aristide, with lightning quickness.

"I swear it, by God! Where is she?"

Aristide disengaged himself, waved his hand airily towards Perigueux,
and smiled blandly.

"In the salon of the hotel, waiting for you to prostrate yourself on
your knees before her."

Mr. Ducksmith gripped him by the arm.

"Come back with me. If you're lying I'll kill you."

"The luggage?" queried Aristide.

"Confound the luggage!" said Mr. Ducksmith, and dragged him out of the
station.

A cab brought them quickly to the hotel. Mr. Ducksmith bolted like an
obese rabbit into the salon. A few moments afterwards Aristide,
entering, found them locked in each other's arms.

They started alone for England that night, and Aristide returned to the
directorship of the Agence Pujol. But he took upon himself enormous
credit for having worked a miracle.

       *       *       *       *       *

"One thing I can't understand," said I, after he had told me the story,
"is what put this sham elopement into your crazy head. What did you see
when you looked into Mr. Ducksmith's bedroom?"

"Ah, _mon vieux_, I did not tell you. If I had told you, you would not
have been surprised at what I did. I saw a sight that would have melted
the heart of a stone. I saw Ducksmith wallowing on his bed and sobbing
as if his heart would break. It filled my soul with pity. I said: 'If
that mountain of insensibility can weep and sob in such agony, it is
because he loves--and it is I, Aristide, who have reawakened that
love.'"

"Then," said I, "why on earth didn't you go and fetch Mrs. Ducksmith and
leave them together?"

He started from his chair and threw up both hands.

"_Mon Dieu!_" cried he. "You English! You are a charming people, but you
have no romance. You have no dramatic sense. I will help myself to a
whisky and soda."



VIII

THE ADVENTURE OF THE FICKLE GODDESS


It may be remembered that Aristide Pujol had aged parents, browned and
wrinkled children of the soil, who had passed all their days in the
desolation of Aigues-Mortes, the little fortified, derelict city in the
salt marshes of Provence. Although they regarded him with the same
unimaginative wonder as a pair of alligators might regard an Argus
butterfly, their undoubted but freakish progeny, and although Aristide
soared high above their heads in all phases of thought and emotion, the
mutual ties remained strong and perdurable. Scarcely a year passed
without Aristide struggling somehow south to visit _ses vieux_, as he
affectionately called them, and whenever Fortune shed a few smiles on
him, one or two at least were sure to find their way to Aigues-Mortes in
the shape of, say, a silver-mounted umbrella for his father or a deuce
of a Paris hat for the old lady's Sunday wear. Monsieur and Madame Pujol
had a sacred museum of these unused objects--the pride of their lives.
Aristide was entirely incomprehensible, but he was a good son. A bad son
in France is rare.

But once Aristide nearly killed his old people outright. An envelope
from him contained two large caressive slips of bluish paper, which when
scrutinized with starting eyes turned out to be two one-thousand-franc
notes. Mon Dieu! What had happened? Had Aristide been robbing the Bank
of France? They stood paralyzed and only recovered motive force when a
neighbour suggested their reading the accompanying letter. It did not
explain things very clearly. He was in Aix-les-Bains, a place which they
had never heard of, making his fortune. He was staying at the Hôtel de
l'Europe, where Queen Victoria (they had heard of Queen Victoria) had
been contented to reside, he was a glittering figure in a splendid
beau-monde, and if _ses vieux_ would buy a few cakes and a bottle of vin
cacheté with the enclosed trifle, to celebrate his prosperity, he would
deem it the privilege of a devoted son. But Pujol senior, though
wondering where the devil he had fished all that money from, did not
waste it in profligate revelry. He took the eighty pounds to the bank
and exchanged the perishable paper for one hundred solid golden louis
which he carried home in a bag curiously bulging beneath his woollen
jersey and secreted it with the savings of his long life in the mattress
of the conjugal bed.

"If only he hasn't stolen it," sighed the mother.

"What does it matter, since it is sewn up there all secure?" said the
old man. "No one can find it."

The Provençal peasant is as hard-headed and practical as a Scottish
miner, and if left alone by the fairies would produce no imaginative
effect whatever upon his generation; but in his progeniture he is more
preposterously afflicted with changelings than any of his fellows the
world over, which, though ethnologically an entirely new proposition,
accounts for a singular number of things and _inter alia_ for my
dragon-fly friend, Aristide Pujol.

Now, Aristide, be it said at the outset, had not stolen the money. It
(and a vast amount more) had been honestly come by. He did not lie when
he said that he was staying at the Hôtel de l'Europe, Aix-les-Bains,
honoured by the late Queen Victoria (pedantic accuracy requires the
correction that the august lady rented the annexe, the Villa Victoria,
on the other side of the shady way--but no matter--an hotel and its
annexe are the same thing) nor did he lie in boasting of his prodigious
prosperity. Aristide was in clover. For the first, and up to now as I
write, the only, time in his life he realized the gorgeous visions of
pallid years. He was leading the existence of the amazing rich. He could
drink champagne--not your miserable _tisane_ at five francs a quart--but
real champagne, with year of vintage and _gôut américan_ or _gôut
anglais_ marked on label, fabulously priced; he could dine lavishly at
the Casino restaurants or at Nikola's, prince of restaurateurs, among
the opulent and the fair; he could clothe himself in attractive raiment;
he could step into a fiacre and bid the man drive and not care whither
he went or what he paid; he could also distribute five-franc pieces to
lame beggars. He scattered his money abroad with both hands, according
to his expansive temperament; and why not, when he was drawing wealth
out of an inexhaustible fount? The process was so simple, so sure. All
you had to do was to believe in the cards on which you staked your
money. If you knew you were going to win, you won. Nothing could be
easier.

He had drifted into Aix-les-Bains from Geneva on the lamentable
determination of a commission agency in the matter of some patent fuel,
with a couple of louis in his pocket forlornly jingling the tale of his
entire fortune. As this was before the days when you had to exhibit
certificates of baptism, marriage, sanity and bank-balance before being
allowed to enter the baccarat rooms, Aristide paid his two francs and
made a bee line for the tables. I am afraid Aristide was a gambler. He
was never so happy as when taking chances; his whole life was a gamble,
with Providence holding the bank. Before the night was over he had
converted his two louis into fifty. The next day they became five
hundred. By the end of a week his garments were wadded with bank notes
whose value amounted to a sum so stupendous as to be beyond need of
computation. He was a celebrity in the place and people nudged each
other as he passed by. And Aristide passed by with a swagger, his head
high and the end of his pointed beard sticking joyously up in the air.

We see him one August morning, in the plentitude of his success,
lounging in a wicker chair on the shady lawn of the Hôtel de l'Europe.
He wore white buckskin shoes--I begin with these as they were the first
point of his person to attract the notice of the onlooker--lilac silk
socks, a white flannel suit with a zig-zag black stripe, a violet tie
secured by a sapphire and diamond pin, and a rakish panama hat. On his
knees lay the _Matin_; the fingers of his left hand held a fragrant
corona; his right hand was uplifted in a gesture, for he was talking. He
was talking to a couple of ladies who sat near by, one a mild-looking
Englishwoman of fifty, dressed in black, the other, her daughter, a
beautiful girl of twenty-four. That Aristide should fly to feminine
charms, like moth to candle, was a law of his being; that he should lie,
with shriveled wings, at Miss Errington's feet was the obvious result.
Her charms were of the winsome kind to which he was most susceptible.
She had an oval face, a little mouth like crumpled rose petals (so
Aristide himself described it), a complexion the mingling of ivory and
peach blossom (Aristide again), a straight little nose, appealing eyes
of the deepest blue veiled by sweeping lashes and fascinating fluffiness
of dark hair over a pure brow. She had a graceful figure, and the
slender foot below her white piqué skirt was at once the envy and
admiration of Aix-les-Bains.

Aristide talked. The ladies listened, with obvious amusement. In the
easy hotel way he had fallen into their acquaintance. As the man of
wealth, the careless player who took five-hundred-louis banks at the
table with the five-louis minimum, and cleared out the punt, he felt it
necessary to explain himself. I am afraid he deviated from the narrow
path of truth.

"What perfect English you speak," Miss Errington remarked, when he had
finished his harangue and had put the corona between his lips. Her voice
was a soft contralto.

"I have mixed much in English society, since I was a child," replied
Aristide, in his grandest manner. "Fortune has made me know many of your
county families and members of Parliament."

Miss Errington laughed. "Our M. P.'s are rather a mixed lot, Monsieur
Pujol."

"To me an English Member of Parliament is a high-bred conservative. I
do not recognize the others," said Aristide.

"Unfortunately we have to recognize them," said the elder lady with a
smile.

"Not socially, madame. They exist as mechanical factors of the
legislative machine; but that is all." He swelled as if the blood of the
Montmorencys and the Colignys boiled in his veins. "We do not ask them
into our drawing rooms. We do not allow them to marry our daughters. We
only salute them with cold politeness when we pass them in the street."

"It's astonishing," said Miss Errington, "how strongly the aristocratic
principle exists in republican France. Now, there's our friend, the
Comte de Lussigny, for instance----"

A frown momentarily darkened the cloudless brow of Aristide Pujol. He
did not like the Comte de Lussigny----

"With Monsieur de Lussigny," he interposed, "it is a matter of
prejudice, not of principle."

"And with you?"

"The reasoned philosophy of a lifetime, mademoiselle," answered
Aristide. He turned to Mrs. Errington.

"How long have you known Monsieur de Lussigny, madame?"

She looked at her daughter. "It was in Monte Carlo the winter before
last, wasn't it, Betty? Since then we have met him frequently in
England and Paris. We came across him, just lately, at Trouville. I
think he's charming, don't you?"

"He's a great gambler," said Aristide.

Betty Errington laughed again. "But so are you. So is mamma. So am I, in
my poor little way."

"We gamble for amusement," said Aristide loftily.

"I'm sure I don't," cried Miss Betty, with merry eyes--and she looked
adorable--"When I put my despised five-franc piece down on the table I
want desperately to win, and when the horrid croupier rakes it up I want
to hit him--Oh! I want to hit him hard."

"And when you win?"

"I'm afraid I don't think of the croupier at all," said Miss Betty.

Her mother smiled indulgently and exchanged a glance with Aristide.
This pleased him; there was an agreeable little touch of intimacy in
it. It confirmed friendly relations with the mother. What were his
designs as regards the daughter he did not know. They were not evil,
certainly. For all his southern blood, Latin traditions and
devil-may-care upbringing, Aristide, though perhaps not reaching our
divinely set and therefore unique English standard of morality, was a
decent soul; further, partly through his pedagogic sojourn among them,
and partly through his childish adoration of the frank, fair-cheeked,
northern goddesses talking the quick, clear speech, who passed him by
when he was a hunted little devil of a _chasseur_ in the Marseilles
café, he had acquired a peculiarly imaginative reverence for English
girls. The reverence, indeed, extended to English ladies generally.
Owing to the queer circumstances of his life they were the only women
of a class above his own, with whom he had associated on terms of
equality. He had, then, no dishonorable designs as regards Miss Betty
Errington. On the other hand, the thoughts of marriage had as yet not
entered his head. You see, a Frenchman and an Englishman or an
American, view marriage from entirely different angles. The
Anglo-Saxon of honest instincts, attracted towards a pretty girl at
once thinks of the possibilities of marriage; if he finds them
infinitely remote, he makes romantic love to her in the solitude of
his walks abroad or of his sleepless nights, and, in her presence, is
as dumb and dismal as a freshly hooked trout. The equally honest Gaul
does nothing of the kind. The attraction in itself is a stimulus to
adventure. He makes love to her, just because it is the nature of a
lusty son of Adam to make love to a pretty daughter of Eve. He lives
in the present. The rest doesn't matter. He leaves it to chance. I am
speaking, be it understood, not of deep passions--that is a different
matter altogether--but of the more superficial sexual attractions
which we, as a race, take so seriously and puritanically, often to our
most disastrous undoing, and which the Latin light-heartedly regards
as essential, but transient phenomena of human existence. Aristide
made the most respectful love in the world to Betty Errington, because
he could not help himself. "_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" he cried when from my
Britannic point of view, I talked to him on the subject. "You English
whom I try to understand and can never understand are so funny! It
would have been insulting to Miss Betty Errington--_tiens!_--a purple
hyacinth of spring--that was what she was--not to have made love to
her. Love to a pretty woman is like a shower of rain to hyacinths. It
passes, it goes. Another one comes. _Qu'importe?_ But the shower is
necessary--Ah! _sacré gredin_, when will you comprehend?"

All this to make as clear as an Englishman, in the confidence of a
changeling child of Provence can hope to do, the attitude of Aristide
Pujol towards the sweet and innocent Betty Errington with her mouth like
crumpled rose-petals, her ivory and peach-blossom complexion, her soft
contralto voice, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, as per foregoing bald
description, and as per what can, by imaginative effort, be pictured
from the Pujolic hyperbole, by which I, the unimportant narrator of
these chronicles, was dazzled and overwhelmed.

"I'm afraid I don't think of the croupier at all," said Betty.

"Do you think of no one who brings you good fortune?" asked Aristide. He
threw the _Matin_ on the grass, and, doubling himself up in his chair
regarded her earnestly. "Last night you put five louis into my bank----"

"And I won forty. I could have hugged you."

"Why didn't you? Ah!" His arms spread wide and high. "What I have lost!"

"Betty!" cried Mrs. Errington.

"Alas, Madame," said Aristide, "that is the despair of our artificial
civilization. It prohibits so much spontaneous expression of emotion."

"You'll forgive me, Monsieur Pujol," said Mrs. Errington dryly, "but I
think our artificial civilization has its advantages."

"If you will forgive me, in your turn," said Aristide, "I see a doubtful
one advancing."

A man approached the group and with profuse gestures took off a straw
hat which he thrust under his right arm, exposing an amazingly flat head
on which the closely cropped hair stood brush-fashion upright. He had an
insignificant pale face to which a specious individuality was given by a
moustache with ends waxed up to the eyes and by a monocle with a
tortoise shell rim. He was dressed (his valet had misjudged things--and
valets like the rest of us are fallible) in what was yesterday a fairly
white flannel suit.

"Madame--Mademoiselle." He shook hands with charming grace. "Monsieur."
He bowed stiffly. Aristide doffed his Panama hat with adequate ceremony.
"May I be permitted to join you?"

"With pleasure, Monsieur de Lussigny," said Mrs. Errington.

Monsieur de Lussigny brought up a chair and sat down.

"What time did you get to bed, last night?" asked Betty Errington. She
spoke excellently pure French, and so did her mother.

"Soon after we parted, mademoiselle, quite early for me but late for
you. And you look this morning as if you had gone to bed at sundown and
got up at dawn."

Miss Betty's glance responsive to the compliment filled Aristide with
wrath. What right had the Comte de Lussigny, a fellow who consorted with
Brazilian Rastaquouères and perfumed Levantine nondescripts, to win such
a glance from Betty Errington?

"If Mademoiselle can look so fresh," said he, "in the artificial
atmosphere of Aix, what is there of adorable that she must not resemble
in the innocence of her Somersetshire home?"

"You cannot imagine it, Monsieur," said the Count; "but I have had the
privilege to see it."

"I hope Monsieur Pujol will visit us also in our country home, when we
get back," said Mrs. Errington with intent to pacificate. "It is modest,
but it is old-world and has been in our family for hundreds of years."

"Ah, these old English homes!" said Aristide.

"Would you care to hear about it?"

"I should," said he.

He drew his chair courteously a foot or so nearer that of the mild lady;
Monsieur de Lussigny took instant advantage of the move to establish
himself close to Miss Betty. Aristide turned one ear politely to Mrs.
Errington's discourse, the other ragingly and impotently to the
whispered conversation between the detached pair.

Presently a novel fell from the lady's lap. Aristide sprang to his feet
and restored it. He remained standing. Mrs. Errington consulted a watch.
It was nearing lunch time. She rose, too. Aristide took her a pace or
two aside.

"My dear Mrs. Errington," said he, in English. "I do not wish to be
indiscreet--but you come from your quiet home in Somerset and your
beautiful daughter is so young and inexperienced, and I am a man of the
world who has mingled in all the society of Europe--may I warn you
against admitting the Comte de Lussigny too far into your intimacy."

She turned an anxious face. "Monsieur Pujol, is there anything against
the Count?"

Aristide executed the large and expressive shrug of the Southerner.

"I play high at the tables for my amusement--I know the principal
players, people of high standing. Among them Monsieur de Lussigny's
reputation is not spotless."

"You alarm me very much," said Mrs. Errington, troubled.

"I only put you on your guard," said he.

The others who had risen and followed, caught them up. At the entrance
to the hotel the ladies left the men elaborately saluting. The latter,
alone, looked at each other.

"Monsieur."

"Monsieur."

Each man raised his hat, turned on his heel and went his way. Aristide
betook himself to the café on the Place Carnot on the side of the square
facing the white Etablissement des Bains, with a stern sense of having
done his duty. It was monstrous that this English damask rose should
fall a prey to so detestable a person as the Comte de Lussigny. He
suspected him of disgraceful things. If only he had proof. Fortune, ever
favoring him, stood at his elbow. She guided him straight to a table in
the front row of the terrace where sat a black-haired, hard-featured
though comely youth deep in thought, in front of an untouched glass of
beer. At Aristide's approach he raised his head, smiled, nodded and
said: "Good morning, sir. Will you join me?"

Aristide graciously accepted the invitation and sat down. The young
man was another hotel acquaintance, one Eugene Miller of Atlanta,
Georgia, a curious compound of shrewdness and simplicity, to whom
Aristide had taken a fancy. He was twenty-eight and ran a colossal
boot-factory in partnership with another youth and had a consuming
passion for stained-glass windows. From books he knew every square
foot of old stained-glass in Europe. But he had crossed the Atlantic
for the first time only six weeks before, and having indulged his
craving immoderately, had rested for a span at Aix-les-Bains to
recover from æsthetic indigestion. He had found these amenities
agreeable to his ingenuous age. He had also, quite recently, come
across the Comte de Lussigny. Hence the depth of thought in which
Aristide discovered him. Now, the fact that North is North and South
is South and that never these twain shall meet is a proposition all
too little considered. One of these days when I can retire from the
dull but exacting avocation of tea-broking in the City, I think I
shall write a newspaper article on the subject. Anyhow, I hold
the theory that the Northerners of all nations have a common
characteristic and the Southerners of all nations have a common
characteristic, and that it is this common characteristic in each
case that makes North seek and understand North and South seek and
understand South. I will not go further into the general proposition;
but as a particular instance I will state that the American of the
South and the Frenchman of the South found themselves in essential
sympathy. Eugene Miller had the unfearing frankness of Aristide Pujol.

"I used rather to look down upon Europe as a place where people knew
nothing at all," said he. "We're sort of trained to think it's an
extinct volcano, but it isn't. It's alive. My God! It's alive. It's Hell
in the shape of a Limburger cheese. I wish the whole population of
Atlanta, Georgia, would come over and just see. There's a lot to be
learned. I thought I knew how to take care of myself, but this
tortoise-shell-eyed Count taught me last night that I couldn't. He
cleaned me out of twenty-five hundred dollars----"

"How?" asked Aristide, sharply.

"Ecarté."

Aristide brought his hand down with a bang on the table and uttered
anathemas in French and Provençal entirely unintelligible to Eugene
Miller; but the youth knew by instinct that they were useful,
soul-destroying curses and he felt comforted.

"Ecarté! You played ecarté with Lussigny? But my dear young friend, do
you know anything of ecarté?"

"Of course," said Miller. "I used to play it as a child with my
sisters."

"Do you know the _jeux de règle_?"

"The what?"

"The formal laws of the game--the rules of discards----"

"Never heard of them," said Eugene Miller.

"But they are as absolute as the Code Napoléon," cried Aristide. "You
can't play without knowing them. You might as well play chess without
knowing the moves."

"Can't help it," said the young man.

"Well, don't play ecarté any more."

"I must," said Miller.

"_Comment?_"

"I must. I've fixed it up to get my revenge this afternoon--in my
sitting room at the hotel."

"But it's imbecile!"

The sweep of Aristide's arm produced prismatic chaos among a tray-full
of drinks which the waiter was bringing to the family party at the next
table. "It's imbecile," he cried, as soon as order was apologetically
and pecuniarily restored. "You are a little mutton going to have its
wool taken off."

"I've fixed it up," said Miller. "I've never gone back on an engagement
yet in my own country and I'm not going to begin this side."

Aristide argued. He argued during the mechanical absorption of four
glasses of _vermouth-cassis_--after which prodigious quantity of black
currant syrup he rose and took the Gadarene youth to Nikola's where he
continued the argument during déjeuner. Eugene Miller's sole concession
was that Aristide should be present at the encounter and, backing his
hand, should have the power (given by the rules of the French game) to
guide his play. Aristide agreed and crammed his young friend with the
_jeux de règle_ and _pâté de foie gras_.

The Count looked rather black when he found Aristide Pujol in Miller's
sitting room. He could not, however, refuse him admittance to the game.
The three sat down, Aristide by Miller's side, so that he could overlook
the hand and, by pointing, indicate the cards that it was advisable to
play. The game began. Fortune favored Mr. Eugene Miller. The Count's
brow grew blacker.

"You are bringing your own luck to our friend, Monsieur Pujol," said he,
dealing the cards.

"He needs it," said Aristide.

"_Le roi_," said the Count, turning up the king.

The Count won the vole, or all five tricks, and swept the stakes towards
him. Then, fortune quickly and firmly deserted Mr. Miller. The Count
besides being an amazingly fine player, held amazingly fine hands. The
pile of folded notes in front of him rose higher and higher. Aristide
tugged at his beard in agitation. Suddenly, as the Count dealt a king as
trump card, he sprang to his feet knocking over the chair behind him.

"You cheat, monsieur. You cheat!"

"Monsieur!" cried the outraged dealer.

"What has he done?"

"He has been palming kings and neutralizing the cut. I've been watching.
Now I catch him," cried Aristide in great excitement. "_Ah, sale voleur!
Maintenant je vous tiens!_"

"Monsieur," said the Comte de Lussigny with dignity, stuffing his
winnings into his jacket pocket. "You insult me. It is an infamy. Two of
my friends will call upon you."

"And Monsieur Miller and I will kick them over Mont Revard."

"You cannot treat _gens d'honneur_ in such a way, monsieur." He turned
to Miller, and said haughtily in his imperfect English, "Did you see the
cheat, you?"

"I can't say that I did," replied the young man. "On the other hand that
torch-light procession of kings doesn't seem exactly natural."

"But you did not see anything! _Bon!_"

"But I saw. Isn't that enough, _hein_?" shouted Aristide brandishing his
fingers in the Count's face. "You come here and think there's nothing
easier than to cheat young foreigners who don't know the rules of
ecarté. You come here and think you can carry off rich young English
misses. Ah, _sale escroc!_ You never thought you would have to reckon
with Aristide Pujol. You call yourself the Comte de Lussigny. Bah! I
know you----" he didn't, but that doesn't matter--"your _dossier_ is in
the hands of the prefect of Police. I am going to get that _dossier_.
Monsieur Lepine is my intimate friend. Every autumn we shoot together.
Aha! You send me your two galley-birds and see what I do to them."

The Comte de Lussigny twirled the tips of his moustache almost to his
forehead and caught up his hat.

"My friends shall be officers in the uniform of the French Army," he
said, by the door.

"And mine shall be two gendarmes," retorted Aristide. "_Nom de Dieu!_"
he cried, after the other had left the room. "We let him take the
money!"

"That's of no consequence. He didn't get away with much anyway," said
young Miller. "But he would have if you hadn't been here. If ever I can
do you a return service, just ask."

Aristide went out to look for the Erringtons. But they were not to be
found. It was only late in the afternoon that he met Mrs. Errington in
the hall of the hotel. He dragged her into a corner and in his
impulsive fashion told her everything. She listened white faced, in
great distress.

"My daughter's engaged to him. I've only just learned," she faltered.

"Engaged? _Sacrebleu!_ Ah, _le goujat!_"--for the second he was
desperately, furiously, jealously in love with Betty Errington. "_Ah, le
sale type! Voyons!_ This engagement must be broken off. At once! You are
her mother."

"She will hear of nothing against him."

"You will tell her this. It will be a blow; but----"

Mrs. Errington twisted a handkerchief between helpless fingers. "Betty
is infatuated. She won't believe it." She regarded him piteously. "Oh,
Monsieur Pujol, what can I do? You see she has an independent fortune
and is over twenty-one. I am powerless."

"I will meet his two friends," exclaimed Aristide magnificently--"and I
will kill him. _Voilà!_"

"Oh, a duel? No! How awful!" cried the mild lady horror-stricken.

He thrust his cane dramatically through a sheet of a newspaper, which he
had caught up from a table. "I will run him through the body like
that"--Aristide had never handled a foil in his life--"and when he is
dead, your beautiful daughter will thank me for having saved her from
such an execrable fellow."

"But you mustn't fight. It would be too dreadful. Is there no other
way?"

"You must consult first with your daughter," said Aristide.

He dined in the hotel with Eugene Miller. Neither the Erringtons nor the
Comte de Lussigny were anywhere to be seen. After dinner, however, he
found the elder lady waiting for him in the hall. They walked out into
the quiet of the garden. She had been too upset to dine, she explained,
having had a terrible scene with Betty. Nothing but absolute proofs of
her lover's iniquity would satisfy her. The world was full of slanderous
tongues; the noblest and purest did not escape. For herself, she had
never been comfortable with the Comte de Lussigny. She had noticed too
that he had always avoided the best French people in hotels. She would
give anything to save her daughter. She wept.

"And the unhappy girl has written him compromising letters," she
lamented.

"They must be got back."

"But how? Oh, Monsieur Pujol, do you think he would take money for
them?"

"A scoundrel like that would take money for his dead mother's shroud,"
said Aristide.

"A thousand pounds?"

She looked very haggard and helpless beneath the blue arc-lights.
Aristide's heart went out to her. He knew her type--the sweet
gentlewoman of rural England who comes abroad to give her pretty
daughter a sight of life, ingenuously confident that foreign
watering-places are as innocent as her own sequestered village.

"That is much money, _chère madame_," said Aristide.

"I am fairly well off," said Mrs. Errington.

Aristide reflected. At the offer of a smaller sum the Count would
possibly bluff. But to a Knight of Industry, as he knew the Count to be,
a certain thousand pounds would be a great temptation. And after all to
a wealthy Englishwoman what was a thousand pounds?

"Madame," said he, "if you offer him a thousand pounds for the letters,
and a written confession that he is not the Comte de Lussigny, but a
common adventurer, I stake my reputation that he will accept."

They walked along for a few moments in silence; the opera had begun at
the adjoining Villa des Fleurs and the strains floated through the still
August air. After a while she halted and laid her hand on his sleeve.

"Monsieur Pujol, I have never been faced with such a thing, before. Will
you undertake for me this delicate and difficult business?"

"Madame," said he, "my life is at the service of yourself and your most
exquisite daughter." She pressed his hand. "Thank God, I've got a friend
in this dreadful place," she said brokenly. "Let me go in." And when
they reached the lounge, she said, "Wait for me here."

She entered the lift. Aristide waited. Presently the lift descended and
she emerged with a slip of paper in her hand.

"Here is a bearer cheque, Monsieur Pujol, for a thousand pounds. Get the
letters and the confession if you can, and a mother's blessing will go
with you."

She left him and went upstairs again in the lift. Aristide athirst with
love, living drama and unholy hatred of the Comte de Lussigny, cocked
his black, soft-felt evening hat at an engaging angle on his head and
swaggered into the Villa des Fleurs. As he passed the plebeian crowd
round the petits-chevaux table--these were the days of little horses and
not the modern equivalent of _la boule_--he threw a louis on the square
marked 5, waited for the croupier to push him his winnings, seven louis
and his stake on the little white horse, and walked into the baccarat
room. A bank was being called for thirty louis at the end table.

"_Quarante_," said Aristide.

"_Ajugé à quarante louis_," cried the croupier, no one bidding higher.

Aristide took the banker's seat and put down his forty louis. Looking
round the long table he saw the Comte de Lussigny sitting in the punt.
The two men glared at each other defiantly. Someone went "banco."
Aristide won. The fact of his holding the bank attracted a crowd round
the table. The regular game began. Aristide won, lost, won again. Now it
must be explained, without going into the details of the game, that the
hand against the bank is played by the members of the punt in turn.

Suddenly, before dealing the cards, Aristide asked, "_A qui la main?_"

"_C'est à Monsieur_," said the croupier, indicating Lussigny.

"_Il y a une suite_," said Aristide, signifying, as was his right, that
he would retire from the bank with his winnings. "The face of that
gentleman does not please me."

There was a hush at the humming table. The Count grew dead white and
looked at his fingernails. Aristide superbly gathered up his notes and
gold, and tossing a couple of louis to the croupiers, left the table,
followed by all eyes. It was one of the thrilling moments of Aristide's
life. He had taken the stage, commanded the situation. He had publicly
offered the Comte de Lussigny the most deadly insult and the Comte de
Lussigny sat down beneath it like a lamb. He swaggered slowly through
the crowded room, twirling his moustache, and went into the cool of the
moonlit deserted garden beyond, where he waited gleefully. He had a
puckish knowledge of human nature. After a decent interval, and during
the absorbing interest of the newly constituted bank, the Comte de
Lussigny slipped unnoticed from the table and went in search of
Aristide. He found him smoking a large corona and lounging in one wicker
chair with his feet on another, beside a very large whisky and soda.

"Ah, it's you," said he without moving.

"Yes," said the Count furiously.

"I haven't yet had the pleasure of kicking your friends over Mont
Revard," said Aristide.

"Look here, _mon petit_, this has got to finish," cried the Count.

"_Parfaitement._ I should like nothing better than to finish. But let us
finish like well-bred people," said Aristide suavely. "We don't want the
whole Casino as witnesses. You'll find a chair over there. Bring it up."

He was enjoying himself immensely. The Count glared at him, turned and
banged a chair over by the side of the table.

"Why do you insult me like this?"

"Because," said Aristide, "I've talked by telephone this evening with my
good friend Monsieur Lepine, Prefect of Police of Paris."

"You lie," said the Count.

"_Vous verrez._ In the meantime, perhaps we might have a little
conversation. Will you have a whisky and soda? It is one of my English
habits."

"No," said the Count emphatically.

"You permit me then?" He drank a great draught. "You are wrong. It helps
to cool one's temper. _Eh bien_, let us talk."

He talked. He put before the Count the situation of the beautiful Miss
Errington. He conducted the scene like the friend of the family whose
astuteness he had admired as a boy in the melodramas that found their
way to Marseilles.

"Look," said he, at last, having vainly offered from one hundred to
eight hundred pounds for poor Betty Errington's compromising letters.
"Look----" He drew the cheque from his note-case. "Here are twenty-five
thousand francs. The signature is that of the charming Madame Errington
herself. The letters, and a little signed word, just a little word.
'Mademoiselle, I am a _chevalier d'industrie_. I have a wife and five
children. I am not worthy of you. I give you back your promise.' Just
that. And twenty-five thousand francs, _mon ami_."

"Never in life!" exclaimed the Count rising. "You continue to insult
me."

Aristide for the first time abandoned his lazy and insolent attitude and
jumped to his feet.

"And I'll continue to insult you, _canaille_ that you are, all through
that room," he cried, with a swift-flung gesture towards the brilliant
doorway. "You are dealing with Aristide Pujol. Will you never
understand? The letters and a confession for twenty-five thousand
francs."

"Never in life," said the Count, and he moved swiftly away.

Aristide caught him by the collar as he stood on the covered terrace, a
foot or two from the threshold of the gaming-room.

"I swear to you, I'll make a scandal that you won't survive."

The Count stopped and pushed Aristide's hand away.

"I admit nothing," said he. "But you are a gambler and so am I. I will
play you for those documents against twenty-five thousand francs."

"Eh?" said Aristide, staggered for the moment.

The Comte de Lussigny repeated his proposition.

"_Bon_," said Aristide. "_Trés bon. C'est entendu. C'est fait._"

If Beelzebub had arisen and offered to play beggar-my-neighbour for his
soul, Aristide would have agreed; especially after the large whisky and
soda and the Mumm Cordon Rouge and the Napoleon brandy which Eugene
Miller had insisted on his drinking at dinner.

"I have a large room at the hotel," said he.

"I will join you," said the Count. "Monsieur," he took off his hat very
politely. "Go first. I will be there in three minutes."

Aristide trod on air during the two minutes' walk to the Hôtel de
l'Europe. At the bureau he ordered a couple of packs of cards and a
supply of drinks and went to his palatial room on the ground floor. In a
few moments the Comte de Lussigny appeared. Aristide offered him a two
francs corona which was ceremoniously accepted. Then he tore the
wrapping off one of the packs of cards and shuffled.

"Monsieur," said he, still shuffling. "I should like to deal two hands
at ecarté. It signifies nothing. It is an experiment. Will you cut?"

"_Volontiers_," said the Count.

Aristide took up the pack, dealt three cards to the Count, three cards
to himself, two cards to the Count, two to himself and turned up the
King of Hearts as the eleventh card.

"Monsieur," said he, "expose your hand and I will expose mine."

Both men threw their hands face uppermost on the table. Aristide's was
full of trumps, the Count's of valueless cards.

He looked at his adversary with his roguish, triumphant smile. The Count
looked at him darkly.

"The ordinary card player does not know how to deal like that," he said
with sinister significance.

"But I am not ordinary in anything, my dear sir," laughed Aristide, in
his large boastfulness. "If I were, do you think I would have agreed to
your absurd proposal? _Voyons_, I only wanted to show you that in
dealing cards I am your equal. Now, the letters----" The Count threw a
small packet on the table. "You will permit me? I do not wish to read
them. I verify only. Good," said he. "And the confession?"

"What you like," said the Count, coldly. Aristide scribbled a few lines
that would have been devastating to the character of a Hyrcanean tiger
and handed the paper and fountain pen to the Count.

"Will you sign?"

The Count glanced at the words and signed.

"_Voilà_," said Aristide, laying Mrs. Errington's cheque beside the
documents. "Now let us play. The best of three games?"

"Good," said the Count. "But you will excuse me, monsieur, if I claim to
play for ready money. The cheque will take five days to negotiate and if
I lose, I shall evidently have to leave Aix to-morrow morning."

"That's reasonable," said Aristide.

He drew out his fat note-case and counted twenty-five one-thousand-franc
notes on to the table. And then began the most exciting game of cards he
had ever played. In the first place he was playing with another person's
money for a fantastic stake, a girl's honour and happiness. Secondly he
was pitted against a master of ecarté. And thirdly he knew that his
adversary would cheat if he could and that his adversary suspected him
of fraudulent designs. So as they played, each man craned his head
forward and looked at the other man's fingers with fierce intensity.

Aristide lost the first game. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. In
the second game, he won the vole in one hand. The third and final game
began. They played slowly, carefully, with keen quick eyes. Their
breathing came hard. The Count's lips parted beneath his uptwisted
moustache showed his teeth like a cat's. Aristide lost sense of all
outer things in the thrill of the encounter. They snarled the
stereotyped phrases necessary for the conduct of the game. At last the
points stood at four for Aristide and three for his adversary. It was
Aristide's deal. Before turning up the eleventh card he paused for the
fraction of a second. If it was the King, he had won. He flicked it
neatly face upward. It was not the King.

_"J'en donne."_

_"Non. Le roi."_

The Count played and marked the King. Aristide had no trumps. The game
was lost.

He sat back white, while the Count smiling gathered up the bank-notes.

"And now, Monsieur Pujol," said he impudently, "I am willing to sell
you this rubbish for the cheque."

Aristide jumped to his feet. "Never!" he cried. Madness seized him.
Regardless of the fact that he had nothing like another thousand pounds
left wherewith to repay Mrs. Errington if he lost, he shouted: "I will
play again for it. Not ecarté. One cut of the cards. Ace lowest."

"All right," said the Count.

"Begin, you."

Aristide watched his hand like cat, as he cut. He cut an eight. Aristide
gave a little gasp of joy and cut quickly. He held up a Knave and
laughed aloud. Then he stopped short as he saw the Count about to pounce
on the documents and the cheque. He made a swift movement and grabbed
them first, the other man's hand on his.

"_Canaille!_"

He dashed his free hand into the adventurer's face. The man staggered
back. Aristide pocketed the precious papers. The Count scowled at him
for an undecided second, and then bolted from the room.

"Whew!" said Aristide, sinking into his chair and wiping his face. "That
was a narrow escape."

He looked at his watch. It was only ten o'clock. It had seemed as if his
game with Lussigny had lasted for hours. He could not go to bed and
stood confronted with anti-climax. After a while he went in search of
Eugene Miller and having found him in solitary meditation on stained
glass windows in the dim-lit grounds of the Villa, sat down by his side
and for the rest of the evening poured his peculiar knowledge of Europe
into the listening ear of the young man from Atlanta.

On the following morning, as soon as he was dressed, he learned from the
Concierge that the Comte de Lussigny had left for Paris by the early
train.

"Good," said Aristide.

A little later Mrs. Errington met him in the lounge and accompanied him
to the lawn where they had sat the day before.

"I have no words to thank you, Monsieur Pujol," she said with tears in
her eyes. "I have heard how you shamed him at the tables. It was brave
of you."

"It was nothing." He shrugged his shoulders as if he were in the habit
of doing deeds like that every day of his life. "And your exquisite
daughter, Madame?"

"Poor Betty! She is prostrate. She says she will never hold up her head
again. Her heart is broken."

"It is young and will be mended," said Aristide.

She smiled sadly. "It will be a question of time. But she is grateful to
you, Monsieur Pujol. She realizes from what a terrible fate you have
saved her." She sighed. There was a brief silence.

"After this," she continued, "a further stay in Aix would be too
painful. We have decided to take the Savoy express this evening and get
back to our quiet home in Somerset."

"Ah, madame," said Aristide earnestly. "And shall I not have the
pleasure of seeing the charming Miss Betty again?"

"You will come and stay with us in September. Let me see? The fifteenth.
Why not fix a date? You have my address? No? Will you write it down?"
she dictated: "Wrotesly Manor, Burnholme, Somerset. There I'll try to
show you how grateful I am."

She extended her hand. He bowed over it and kissed it in his French way
and departed a very happy man.

The Erringtons left that evening. Aristide waylaid them as they were
entering the hotel omnibus, with a preposterous bouquet of flowers which
he presented to Betty, whose pretty face was hidden by a motor-veil. He
bowed, laid his hand on his heart and said: "_Adieu, mademoiselle._"

"No," she said in a low voice, but most graciously, "_Au revoir_,
Monsieur Pujol."

For the next few days Aix seemed to be tame and colourless. In an
inexplicable fashion, too, it had become unprofitable. Aristide no
longer knew that he was going to win; and he did not win. He lost
considerably. So much so that on the morning when he was to draw the
cash for the cheque, at the Crédit Lyonnais, he had only fifty pounds
and some odd silver left. Aristide looking at the remainder rather
ruefully made a great resolution. He would gamble no more. Already he
was richer than he had ever been in his life. He would leave Aix.
_Tiens!_ why should he not go to his good friends the Bocardons at
Nîmes, bringing with him a gold chain for Bocardon and a pair of
ear-rings for the adorable Zette? There he would look about him. He
would use the thousand pounds as a stepping-stone to legitimate fortune.
Then he would visit the Erringtons in England, and if the beautiful Miss
Betty smiled on him--why, after all, _sacrebleu_ he was an honest man,
without a feather on his conscience.

So, jauntily swinging his cane, he marched into the office of the Crédit
Lyonnais, went into the inner room and explained his business.

"Ah, your cheque, monsieur, that we were to collect. I am sorry. It has
come back from the London bankers."

"How come back?"

"It has not been honoured. See, monsieur. 'Not known. No account.'" The
cashier pointed to the grim words across the cheque.

"_Comprends pas_," faltered Aristide.

"It means that the person who gave you the cheque has no account at this
bank."

Aristide took the cheque and looked at it in a dazed way.

"Then I do not get my twenty-five thousand francs?"

"Evidently not," said the cashier.

Aristide stood for a while stunned. What did it mean? His thousand
pounds could not be lost. It was impossible. There was some mistake. It
was an evil dream. With a heavy weight on the top of his head, he went
out of the Crédit Lyonnais and mechanically crossed the little street
separating the Bank from the café on the Place Carnot. There he sat
stupidly and wondered. The waiter hovered in front of him. "_Monsieur
désire?_" Aristide waved him away absently. Yes, it was some mistake.
Mrs. Errington in her agitation must have used the wrong cheque book.
But even rich English people do not carry about with them a circulating
library assortment of cheque books. It was incomprehensible--and
meanwhile, his thousand pounds....

The little square blazed before him in the August sunshine. Opposite
flashed the white mass of the Etablissement des Bains. There was the old
Roman Arch of Titus, gray and venerable. There were the trees of the
gardens in riotous greenery. There on the right marking the hour of
eleven on its black face was the clock of the Comptoir National. It was
Aix; familiar Aix; not a land of dreams. And there coming rapidly across
from the Comptoir National was the well knit figure of the young man
from Atlanta.

"_Nom de Dieu_," murmured Aristide. "_Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_"

Eugene Miller, in a fine frenzy, threw himself into a chair beside
Aristide.

"See here. Can you understand this?"

He thrust into his hand a pink strip of paper. It was a cheque for a
hundred pounds, made payable to Eugene Miller, Esquire, signed by Mary
Errington, and marked "Not known. No account."

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" cried Aristide. "How did you get this?"

"How did I get it? I cashed it for her--the day she went away. She said
urgent affairs summoned her from Aix--no time to wire for funds--wanted
to pay her hotel bill--and she gave me the address of her old English
home in Somerset and invited me to come there in September. Fifteenth of
September. Said that you were coming. And now I've got a bum cheque. I
guess I can't wander about this country alone. I need blinkers and
harness and a man with a whip."

He went on indignantly. Aristide composed his face into an expression of
parental interest; but within him there was shivering and sickening
upheaval. He saw it all, the whole mocking drama....

He, Aristide Pujol, was the most sweetly, the most completely swindled
man in France.

The Comte de Lussigny, the mild Mrs. Errington and the beautiful Betty
were in league together and had exquisitely plotted. They had conspired,
as soon as he had accused the Count of cheating. The rascal must have
gone straight to them from Miller's room. No wonder that Lussigny, when
insulted at the tables, had sat like a tame rabbit and had sought him in
the garden. No wonder he had accepted the accusation of adventurer. No
wonder he had refused to play for the cheque which he knew to be
valueless. But why, thought Aristide, did he not at once consent to sell
the papers on the stipulation that he should be paid in notes? Aristide
found an answer. He wanted to get everything for nothing, afraid of the
use that Aristide might make of a damning confession, and also relying
for success on his manipulation of the cards. Finally he had desired to
get hold of a dangerous cheque. In that he had been foiled. But the trio
has got away with his thousand pounds, his wonderful thousand pounds. He
reflected, still keeping an attentive eye on young Eugene Miller and
interjecting a sympathetic word, that after he had paid his hotel bill,
he would be as poor on quitting Aix-les-Bains as he was when he had
entered it. _Sic transit_.... As it was in the beginning with Aristide
Pujol, is now and ever shall be....

"But I have my clothes--such clothes as I've never had in my life,"
thought Aristide. "And a diamond and sapphire tie-pin and a gold watch,
and all sorts of other things. _Tron de l'air_, I'm still rich."

"Who would have thought she was like that?" said he. "And a hundred
pounds, too. A lot of money."

For nothing in the world would he have confessed himself a
fellow-victim.

"I don't care a cent for the hundred pounds," cried the young man. "Our
factory turns out seven hundred and sixty-seven million pairs of boots
per annum." (Aristide, not I, is responsible for the statistics.) "But I
have a feeling that in this hoary country I'm just a little toddling
child. And I hate it. I do, sir. I want a nurse to take me round."

Aristide flashed the lightning of his wit upon the young man from
Atlanta, Georgia.

"You do, my dear young friend. I'll be your nurse, at a weekly
salary--say a hundred francs--it doesn't matter. We will not quarrel."
Eugene Miller was startled. "Yes," said Aristide, with a convincing
flourish. "I'll clear robbers and sirens and harpies from your path.
I'll show you things in Europe--from Tromsö to Cap Spartivento that you
never dreamed of. I'll lead you to every stained glass window in the
world. I know them all."

"I particularly want to see those in the church of St. Sebald in
Nuremberg."

"I know them like my pocket," said Aristide. "I will take you there. We
start to-day."

"But, Mr. Pujol," said the somewhat bewildered Georgian. "I thought you
were a man of fortune."

"I am more than a man. I am a soldier. I am a soldier of Fortune. The
fickle goddess has for the moment deserted me. But I am loyal. I have
for all worldly goods, two hundred and fifty dollars, with which I shall
honorably pay my hotel bill. I say I am a soldier of Fortune. But," he
slapped his chest, "I am the only honorable one on the Continent of
Europe."

The young man fixed upon him the hard blue eyes, not of the enthusiast
for stained glass windows, but of the senior partner in the boot factory
of Atlanta, Georgia.

"I believe you," said he. "It's a deal. Shake."

"And now," said Aristide, after having shaken hands, "come and lunch
with me at Nikola's for the last time."

He rose, stretched out both arms in a wide gesture and smiled with his
irresistible Ancient Mariner's eyes at the young man.

"We lunch. We eat ambrosia. Then we go out together and see the
wonderful world through the glass-blood of saints and martyrs and
apostles and the good Father Abraham and Louis Quatorze. _Viens, mon
cher ami._ It is the dream of my life."

Practically penniless and absolutely disillusioned, the amazing man was
radiantly happy.



IX

THE ADVENTURE OF A SAINT MARTIN'S SUMMER


My good friend Blessington, who is a mighty man in the Bordeaux
wine-trade, happening one day to lament the irreparable loss of a
deceased employé, an Admirable Crichton of a myriad accomplishments and
linguistic attainments whose functions it had been, apparently, to
travel about between London, Bordeaux, Marseilles and Algiers, I
immediately thought of a certain living and presumably unemployed
paragon of my acquaintance.

"I know the very man you're looking for," said I.

"Who is he?"

"He's a kind of human firework," said I, "and his name is Aristide
Pujol."

I sketched the man--in my desire to do a good turn to Aristide, perhaps
in exaggerated colour.

"Let me have a look at him," said Blessington.

"He may be anywhere on the continent of Europe," said I. "How long can
you give me to produce him?"

"A week. Not longer."

"I'll do my best," said I.

By good luck my telegram, sent off about four o'clock, found him at 213
_bis_ Rue Saint-Honoré. He had just returned to Paris after some mad
dash for fortune (he told me afterwards a wild and disastrous story of a
Russian Grand-Duke, a Dancer and a gold mine in the Dolomites) and had
once more resumed the dreary conduct of the Agence Pujol at the Hôtel du
Soleil et de l'Ecosse. My summons being imperative, he abandoned the
Agence Pujol as a cat jumps off a wall, and, leaving the guests of the
Hotel guideless, to the indignation of Monsieur Bocardon, whom he had
served this trick several times before, paid his good landlady, Madam
Bidoux, what he owed her, took a third-class ticket to London, bought,
lunatic that he was, a ripe Brie cheese, a foot in diameter, a present
to myself, which he carried in his hand most of the journey, and turned
up at my house at eight o'clock the next morning with absolutely empty
pockets and the happiest and most fascinating smile that ever irradiated
the face of man. As a matter of fact, he burst his way past my
scandalized valet into my bedroom and woke me up.

"Here I am, my dear friend, and here is something French you love that I
have brought you," and he thrust the Brie cheese under my nose.

"-- -- --," said I.

If you were awakened by a Brie cheese, an hour before your time, you
would say the same. Aristide sat at the foot of the bed and laughed till
the tears ran down his beard.

As soon as it was decent I sent him into the city to interview
Blessington. Three hours afterward he returned more radiant than ever.
He threw himself into my arms; before I could disentagle myself, he
kissed me on both cheeks; then he danced about the room.

"_Me voici_," he said, "accredited representative of the great Maison
Dulau et Compagnie. I have hundreds of pounds a year. I go about. I
watch. I control. I see that the Great British Public can assuage its
thirst with the pure juice of the grape and not with the dregs of a
laboratory. I test vintages. I count barrels. I enter them in books. I
smile at Algerian wine growers and say, 'Ha! ha! none of your _petite
piquette frélateé_ for me but good sound wine.' It is diplomacy. It is
as simple as kissing hands. And I have a sustained income. Now I can be
_un bon bourgeois_ instead of a stray cat. And all due to you, _mon cher
ami_. I am grateful--_voyons_--if anybody ever says Aristide Pujol is
ungrateful, he is a liar. You believe me! Say you believe me."

He looked at me earnestly.

"I do, old chap," said I.

I had known Aristide for some years, and in all kinds of little ways he
had continuously manifested his gratitude for the trifling service I had
rendered him, at our first meeting, in delivering him out of the hands
of the horrific Madam Gougasse. That gratitude is the expectation of
favors to come was, in the case of Aristide, a cynical and inapplicable
proposition. And here, as this (as far as I can see) is the last of
Aristide's adventures I have to relate, let me make an honest and
considered statement:--

During the course of an interesting and fairly prosperous life, I have
made many delightful Bohemian, devil-may-care acquaintances, but among
them all Aristide stands as the one bright star who has never asked me
to lend him money. I have offered it times without number, but he has
refused. I believe there is no man living to whom Aristide is in debt.
In the depths of the man's changeling and feckless soul is a principle
which has carried him untarnished through many a wild adventure. If
he ever accepted money--money to the Provençal peasant is the
transcendental materialised, and Aristide (save by the changeling
theory) was Provençal peasant bone and blood--it was always for what he
honestly thought was value received. If he met a man who wanted to take
a mule ride among the Mountains of the Moon, Aristide would at once have
offered himself as guide. The man would have paid him; but Aristide, by
some quaint spiritual juggling, would have persuaded him that the
ascent of Primrose Hill was equal to any lunar achievement, seeing that,
himself, Aristide Pujol, was keeper of the Sun, Moon and Seven Stars;
and the gift to that man of Aristide's dynamic personality would have
been well worth anything that he would have found in the extinct volcano
we know to be the moon.

"The only thing I would suggest, if you would allow me to do so," said
I, "is not to try to make the fortune of Messrs. Dulau & Co. by some
dazzling but devastating _coup_ of your own."

He looked at me in his bright, shrewd way. "You think it time I
restrained my imagination?"

"Exactly."

"I will read The Times and buy a family Bible," said Aristide.

A week after he had taken up his work in the City, under my friend
Blessington, I saw the delighted and prosperous man again. It was a
Saturday and he came to lunch at my house.

"_Tiens!_" said he, when he had recounted his success in the office, "it
is four years since I was in England?"

"Yes," said I, with a jerk of memory. "Time passes quickly."

"It is three years since I lost little Jean."

"Who is little Jean?" I asked.

"Did I not tell you when I saw you last in Paris?"

"No."

"It is strange. I have been thinking about him and my heart has been
aching for him all the time. You must hear. It is most important." He
lit a cigar and began.

It was then that he told me the story of which I have already related
in these chronicles:[A] how he was scouring France in a ramshackle
automobile as the peripatetic vendor of a patent corn cure and found a
babe of nine months lying abandoned in the middle of that silent road
through the wilderness between Salon and Arles; how instead of
delivering it over to the authorities, he adopted it and carried it
about with him from town to town, a motor accessory sometimes
embarrassing, but always divinely precious; how an evil day came upon
him at Aix-en-Provence when, the wheezing automobile having uttered
its last gasp, he found his occupation gone; how, no longer being able
to care for _le petit_ Jean, he left him with a letter and half his
fortune outside the door of a couple of English maiden ladies who,
staying in the same hotel, had manifested great interest in the baby
and himself; and how, in the dead of the night, he had tramped away
from Aix-en-Provence in the rain, his pockets light and his heart as
heavy as lead.

 [A] The Adventures of the Foundling.

"And I have never heard of my little Jean again," said Aristide.

"Why didn't you write?" I asked.

"I knew their names, Honeywood; Miss Janet was the elder, Miss Anne the
younger. But the name of the place they lived at I have never been able
to remember. It was near London--they used to come up by train to
matinées and afternoon concerts. But what it is called, _mon Dieu_, I
have racked my brain for it. _Sacré mille tonnerres!_" He leaped to his
feet in his unexpected, startling way, and pounced on a Bradshaw's
Railway Guide lying on my library table. "Imbecile, pig, triple ass that
I am! Why did I not think of this before? It is near London. If I look
through all the stations near London on every line, I shall find it."

"All right," said I, "go ahead."

I lit a cigarette and took up a novel. I had not read very far when a
sudden uproar from the table caused me to turn round. Aristide danced
and flourished the Bradshaw over his head.

"Chislehurst! Chislehurst! Ah, _mon ami_, now I am happy. Now I have
found my little Jean. You will forgive me--but I must go now and embrace
him."

He held out his hand.

"Where are you off to?" I demanded.

"The Chislehurst, where else?"

"My dear fellow," said I, rising, "do you seriously suppose that these
two English maiden ladies have taken on themselves the responsibility of
that foreign brat's upbringing?"

"_Mon Dieu!_" said he taken aback for the moment, hypothesis having
entered his head. Then, with a wide gesture, he flung the preposterous
idea to the winds. "Of course. They have hearts, these English women.
They have maternal instincts. They have money." He looked at Bradshaw
again, then at his watch. "I have just time to catch a train. _Au
revoir, mon vieux._"

"But," I objected, "why don't you write? It's the natural thing to do."

"Write? _Bah!_ Did you ever hear of a Provençal writing when he could
talk?" He tapped his lips, and in an instant, like a whirlwind, he
passed from my ken.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aristide on his arrival at Chislehurst looked about the pleasant, leafy
place--it was a bright October afternoon and the wooded hillside blazed
in russet and gold--and decided it was the perfect environment for Miss
Janet and Miss Anne, to say nothing of little Jean. A neat red brick
house with a trim garden in front of it looked just the kind of a house
wherein Miss Janet and Miss Anne would live. He rang the bell. A
parlour-maid, in spotless black and white, tutelary nymph of Suburbia,
the very parlour-maid who would minister to Miss Janet and Miss Anne,
opened the door.

"Miss Honeywood?" he inquired.

"Not here, sir," said the parlour-maid.

"Where is she? I mean, where are they?"

"No one of that name lives here," said the parlour-maid.

"Who does live here?"

"Colonel Brabazon."

"And where do the two Miss Honeywood live?" he asked with his engaging
smile.

But English suburban parlour-maids are on their guard against smiles, no
matter how engaging. She prepared to shut the door.

"I don't know."

"How can I find out?"

"You might enquire among the tradespeople."

"Thank you, mademoiselle, you are a most intelligent young----"

The door shut in his face. Aristide frowned. She was a pretty
parlour-maid, and Aristide didn't like to be so haughtily treated by a
pretty woman. But his quest being little Jean and not the eternal
feminine, he took the maid's advice and made enquiries at the prim and
respectable shops.

"Oh, yes," said a comely young woman in a fragrant bakers' and
confectioners'. "They were two ladies, weren't they? They lived at Hope
Cottage. We used to supply them. They left Chislehurst two years ago."

"_Sacré nom d'un chien!_" said Aristide.

"Beg pardon?" asked the young woman.

"I am disappointed," said Aristide. "Where did they go to?"

"I'm sure I can't tell you."

"Do you remember whether they had a baby?"

"They were maiden ladies," said the young woman rebukingly.

"But anybody can keep a baby without being its father or mother. I want
to know what has become of the baby."

The young woman gazed through the window.

"You had better ask the policeman."

"That's an idea," said Aristide, and, leaving her, he caught up the
passing constable.

The constable knew nothing of maiden ladies with a baby, but he directed
him to Hope Cottage. He found a pretty half-timber house lying back from
the road, with a neat semi-circular gravelled path leading to a porch
covered thick with Virginia creeper. Even more than the red brick
residence of Colonel Brabazon did it look, with its air of dainty
comfort, the fitting abode of Miss Janet and Miss Anne. He rang the bell
and interviewed another trim parlour-maid. More susceptible to smiles
than the former, she summoned her master, a kindly, middle-aged man, who
came out into the porch. Yes, Honeywood was the name of the previous
tenants. Two ladies, he believed. He had never seen them and knew
nothing about a child. Messrs. Tompkin & Briggs, the estate agents in
the High Street, could no doubt give him information. Aristide thanked
him and made his way to Messrs. Tompkin & Briggs. A dreary spectacled
youth in resentful charge of the office--his principals, it being
Saturday afternoon, were golfing the happy hours away--professed blank
ignorance of everything. Aristide fixed him with his glittering eye and
flickered his fingers and spoke richly. The youth in a kind of mesmeric
trance took down a battered, dog's eared book and turned over the pages.

"Honeywood--Miss--Beverly Stoke--near St. Albans--Herts. That's it," he
said.

Aristide made a note of the address. "Is that all you can tell me?"

"Yes," said the youth.

"I thank you very much, my young friend," said Aristide, raising his
hat, "and here is something to buy a smile with," and, leaving a
sixpence on the table to shimmer before the youth's stupefied eyes,
Aristide strutted out of the office.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You had much better have written," said I, when he came back and told
me of his experiences. "The post-office would have done all that for
you."

"You have no idea of business, _mon cher ami_"--(I--a successful
tea-broker of twenty-five years' standing!--the impudence of the
fellow!)--"If I had written to-day, the letter would have reached
Chislehurst on Monday morning. It would be redirected and reach
Hertfordshire on Tuesday. I should not get any news till Wednesday. I go
down to Beverly Stoke to-morrow, and then I find at once Miss Janet and
Miss Anne and my little Jean! The secret of business men, and I am a
business man, the accredited representative of Dulau et Compagnie--never
forget that--the secret of business is no delay."

He darted across the room to Bradshaw.

"For God's sake," said I, "put that nightmare of perpetual motion in
your pocket and go mad over it in the privacy of your own chamber."

"Very good," said he, tucking the brain-convulsing volume under his arm.
"I will put it on top of The Times and the family Bible and I will say
'Ha! now I am British. Now I am very respectable!' What else can I do?"

"Rent a pew in a Baptist chapel," said I.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a three-mile trudge from St. Albans Aristide, following
directions, found himself on a high road running through the middle of a
straggy common decked here and there with great elms splendid in autumn
bravery, and populated chiefly by geese, who when he halted in some
perplexity--for on each side, beyond the green, were indications of a
human settlement--advanced in waddling flocks towards him and signified
their disapproval of his presence. A Sundayfied youth in a rainbow tie
rode past on a bicycle. Aristide took off his hat. The youth nearly fell
off the bicycle, but British doggedness saved him from disaster.

"Beverly Stoke? Will you have the courtesy----"

"Here," bawled the youth, with a circular twist of his head, and, eager
to escape from a madman, he rode on furiously.

Aristide looked to left and right at the little houses beyond the
green--some white and thatched and dilapidated, others horridly new and
perky--but all poor and insignificant. As his eyes became accustomed to
the scene they were aware of human forms dotted sparsely about the
common. He struck across and accosted one, an elderly woman with a
prayer-book. "Miss Honeywood? A lady from London?"

"That house over there--the third beyond the poplar."

"And little Jean--a beautiful child about four years old?"

"That I don't know, sir. I live at Wilmer's End, a good half mile from
here."

Aristide made for the third house past the poplar. First there was a
plank bridge across a grass-grown ditch; then a tiny patch of garden;
then a humble whitewashed cottage with a small leaded casement window on
each side of the front door. Unlike Hope Cottage, it did not look at all
the residence of Miss Janet and Miss Anne. Its appearance, indeed, was
woe-begone. Aristide, however, went up to the door; as there was neither
knocker nor bell, he rapped with his knuckles. The door opened, and
there, poorly dressed in blouse and skirt, stood Miss Anne.

She regarded him for a moment in a bewildered way, then, recognizing
him, drew back into the stone flagged passage with a sharp cry.

"You? You--Mr. Pujol?"

"_Oui, Mademoiselle, c'est moi._ It is I, Aristide Pujol."

She put her hands on her bosom. "It is rather a shock seeing you--so
unexpectedly. Will you come in?"

She led the way into a tiny parlour, very clean, very simple with its
furniture of old oak and brass, and bade him sit. She looked a little
older than when he had seen her at Aix-en-Provence. A few lines had
marred the comely face and there was here and there a touch of grey in
the reddish hair, and, though still buxom, she had grown thinner. Care
had set its stamp upon her.

"Miss Honeywood," said Aristide. "It is on account of little Jean that I
have come----"

She turned on him swiftly. "Not to take him away!"

"Then he is here!" He jumped to his feet and wrung both her hands and
kissed them to her great embarrassment. "Ah, mademoiselle, I knew it. I
felt it. When such an inspiration comes to a man, it is the _bon Dieu_
who sends it. He is here, actually here, in this house?"

"Yes," said Miss Anne.

Aristide threw out his arms. "Let me see him. _Ah, le cher petit!_ I
have been yearning after him for three years. It was my heart that I
ripped out of my body that night and laid at your threshold."

"Hush!" said Miss Anne, with an interrupting gesture. "You must not talk
so loud. He is asleep in the next room. You mustn't wake him. He is very
ill."

"Ill? Dangerously ill?"

"I'm afraid so."

"_Mon Dieu_," said he, sitting down again in the oak settle. To Aristide
the emotion of the moment was absorbing, overwhelming. His attitude
betokened deepest misery and dejection.

"And I expected to see him full of joy and health!"

"It is not my fault, Mr. Pujol," said Miss Anne.

He started. "But no. How could it be? You loved him when you first set
eyes on him at Aix-en-Provence."

Miss Anne began to cry. "God knows," said she, "what I should do without
him. The dear mite is all that is left to me."

"All? But there is your sister, the dear Miss Janet."

Miss Anne's eyes were hidden in her handkerchief. "My poor sister died
last year, Mr. Pujol."

"I am very sorry. I did not know," said Aristide gently.

There was a short silence. "It was a great sorrow to you," he said.

"It was God's will," said Anne. Then, after another pause, during which
she dried her eyes, she strove to smile. "Tell me about yourself. How do
you come to be here?"

Aristide replied in a hesitating way. He was in the presence of grief
and sickness and trouble; the Provençal braggadocio dropped from him and
he became the simple and childish creature that he was. He accounted
very truthfully, very convincingly, for his queer life; for his
abandonment of little Jean, for his silence, for his sudden and
unexpected appearance. During the ingenuous _apologia pro vita sua_ Miss
Anne regarded him with her honest candour.

"Janet and I both understood," she said. "Janet was gifted with a divine
comprehension and pity. The landlady at the hotel, I remember, said some
unkind things about you; but we didn't believe them. We felt that you
were a good man--no one but a good man could have written that
letter--we cried over it--and when she tried to poison our minds we said
to each other: 'What does it matter? Here God in his mercy has given us
a child.' But, Mr. Pujol, why didn't you take us into your confidence?"

"My dear Miss Anne," said Aristide, "we of the South do things
impulsively, by lightning flashes. An idea comes suddenly. _Vlan!_ we
carry it out in two seconds. We are not less human than the Northerner,
who reflects two months."

"That is almost what dear, wise Janet told me," said Miss Anne.

"Then you know in your heart," said Aristide, after a while, "that if I
had not been only a football at the feet of fortune, I should never have
deserted little Jean?"

"I do, Mr. Pujol. My sister and I have been footballs, too." She added
with a change of tone: "You tell me you saw our dear home at
Chislehurst?"

"Yes," said Aristide.

"And you see this. There is a difference."

"What has happened?" asked Aristide.

She told him the commonplace pathetic story. Their father had left them
shares in the company of which he had been managing director. For many
years they had enjoyed a comfortable income. Then the company had become
bankrupt and only a miserable ninety pounds a year had been saved from
the wreckage. The cottage at Beverly Stoke belonging to them--it had
been their mother's--they had migrated thither with their fallen
fortunes and little Jean. And then Janet had died. She was delicate and
unaccustomed to privation and discomfort--and the cottage had its
disadvantages. She, Anne herself, was as strong as a horse and had never
been ill in her life, but others were not quite so hardy. "However"--she
smiled--"one has to make the best of things."

"_Parbleu_," said Aristide.

Miss Anne went on to talk of Jean, a miraculous infant of infinite
graces and accomplishments. Up to now he had been the sturdiest and
merriest fellow.

"At nine months old he saw that life was a big joke," said Aristide.
"How he used to laugh."

"There's not much laugh left in him, poor darling," she sighed. And she
told how he had caught a chill which had gone to his lungs and how the
night before last she thought she had lost him.

She sat up and listened. "Will you excuse me for a moment?"

She went out and presently returned, standing at the doorway. "He is
still asleep. Would you like to see him? Only"--she put her fingers on
her lips--"you must be very, very quiet."

He followed her into the next room and looked about him shyly,
recognizing that it was Miss Anne's own bedroom; and there, lying in a
little cot beside the big bed, he saw the sleeping child, his brown face
flushed with fever. He had a curly shock of black hair and well formed
features. An old woolly lamb nose to nose with him shared his pillow.
Aristide drew from his pocket a Teddy bear, and, having asked Miss
Anne's permission with a glance, laid it down gently on the coverlid.

His eyes were wet when they returned to the parlour. So were Miss
Anne's. The Teddy bear was proof of the simplicity of his faith in her.

After a while, conscious of hunger, he rose to take leave. He must be
getting back to St. Albans. But might he be permitted to come back later
in the afternoon? Miss Anne reddened. It outraged her sense of
hospitality to send a guest away from her house on a three-mile walk for
food. And yet----

"Mr. Pujol," she said bravely, "I would ask you to stay to luncheon if I
had anything to offer you. But I am single handed, and, with Jean's
illness, I haven't given much thought to housekeeping. The woman who
does some of the rough work won't be back till six. I hate to let you go
all those miles--I am so distressed----"

"But, mademoiselle," said Aristide. "You have some bread. You have
water. It has been a banquet many a day to me, and this time it would
be the most precious banquet of all."

"I can do a little better than that," faltered Miss Anne. "I have plenty
of eggs and there is bacon."

"Eggs--bacon!" cried Aristide, his bright eyes twinkling and his hands
going up in the familiar gesture. "That is superb. _Tiens!_ you shall
not do the cooking. You shall rest. I will make you an _omelette au
lard_--_ah!_"--he kissed the tips of his fingers--"such an omelette as
you have not eaten since you were in France--and even there I doubt
whether you have ever eaten an omelette like mine." His soul simmering
with omelette, he darted towards the door. "The kitchen--it is this
way?"

"But, Mr. Pujol----!" Miss Anne laughed, protestingly. Who could be
angry with the vivid and impulsive creature?

"It is the room opposite Jean's--not so?"

She followed him into the clean little kitchen, half amused, half
flustered. Already he had hooked off the top of the kitchen range. "Ah!
a good fire. And your frying-pan?" He dived into the scullery.

"Please don't be in such a hurry," she pleaded. "You will have made the
omelette before I've had time to lay the cloth, and it will get cold.
Besides, I want to learn how to do it."

"_Trés bien_," said Aristide, laying down the frying-pan. "You shall see
how it is made--the omelette of the universe."

So he helped Miss Anne to lay the cloth on the gate-legged oak table in
the parlour and to set it out with bread and butter and the end of a
tinned tongue and a couple of bottles of stout. After which they went
back to the little kitchen, where in a kind of giggling awe she watched
him shred the bacon and break the eggs with his thin, skilful fingers
and perform his magic with the frying-pan and turn out the great golden
creation into the dish.

"Now," said he, pulling her in his enthusiasm, "to table while it is
hot."

Miss Anne laughed. She lost her head ever so little. The days had been
drab and hopeless of late and she was still young; so, if she felt
excited at this unhoped for inrush of life and colour, who shall blame
her? The light sparkled once more in her eyes and the pink of her
naturally florid complexion shone on her cheek as they sat down to
table.

"It is I who help it," said Aristide. "Taste that." He passed the plate
and waited, with the artist's expectation for her approval.

"It's delicious."

It was indeed the perfection of omelette, all its suave juiciness
contained in film as fine as goldbeater's skin.

"Yes, it's good." He was delighted, childlike, at the success of his
cookery. His gaiety kept the careworn woman in rare laughter during the
meal. She lost all consciousness that he was a strange man plunged down
suddenly in the midst of her old maidish existence--and a strange man,
too, who had once behaved in a most outrageous fashion. But that was
ever the way of Aristide. The moment you yielded to his attraction he
made you feel that you had known him for years. His fascination
possessed you.

"Miss Anne," said he, smoking a cigarette, at her urgent invitation, "is
there a poor woman in Beverly Stoke with whom I could lodge?"

She gasped. "You lodge in Beverly Stoke?"

"Why yes," said Aristide, as if it were the most natural thing in the
world. "I am engaged in the city from ten to five every day. I can't
come here and go back to London every night, and I can't stay a whole
week without my little Jean. And I have my duty to Jean. I stand to him
in the relation of a father. I must help you to nurse him and make him
better. I must give him soup and apples and ice cream and----"

"You would kill the darling in five minutes," interrupted Miss Anne.

He waved his forefinger in the air. "No, no, I have nursed the sick in
my time. My dear friend," said he, with a change of tone, "when did you
go to bed last?"

"I don't know," she answered in some confusion. "The district nurse has
helped me--and the doctor has been very good. Jean has turned the corner
now. Please don't worry. And as for your coming to live down here, it's
absurd."

"Of course, if you formally forbid me to do so, mademoiselle, and if you
don't want to see me----"

"How can you say a thing like that? Haven't I shown you to-day that you
are welcome?"

"Dear Miss Anne," said he, "forgive me. But what is that great vast town
of London to me who know nobody there? Here in this tiny spot is
concentrated all I care for in the world. Why shouldn't I live in it?"

"You would be so dreadfully uncomfortable," said Miss Anne, weakly.

"Bah!" cried Aristide. "You talk of discomfort to an old client of
_L'Hôtel de la Belle Étoile_?"

"The Hotel of the Beautiful Star? Where is that?" asked the innocent
lady.

"Wherever you like," said Aristide. "Your bed is dry leaves and your
bed-curtains, if you demand luxury, are a hedge, and your ceiling, if
you are fortunate, is ornamented with stars."

She looked at him wide-eyed, in great concern.

"Do you mean that you have ever been homeless?"

He laughed. "I think I've been everything imaginable, except married."

"Hush!" she said. "Listen!" Her keen ear had caught a child's cry. "It's
Jean. I must go."

She hurried out. Aristide prepared to light another cigarette. But a
second before the application of the flaring match an idea struck him.
He blew out the match, replaced the cigarette in his case, and with a
dexterity that revealed the professional of years ago, began to clear
the table. He took the things noiselessly into the kitchen, shut the
door, and master of the kitchen and scullery washed up. Then, the most
care-free creature in the world, he stole down the stone passage into
the wilderness of Beverly Stoke.

An hour afterwards he knocked at the front door, Anne Honeywood admitted
him.

"I have arranged with the good Mrs. Buttershaw. She lives a hundred
yards down the road. I bring my baggage to-morrow evening."

Anne regarded him in a humorous, helpless way. "I can't prevent you,"
she said, "but I can give you a piece of advice."

"What is it?"

"Don't wash up for Mrs. Buttershaw."

       *       *       *       *       *

So it came to pass that Aristide Pujol took up his residence at
Beverly Stoke, trudging every morning three miles to catch his
business train at St. Albans, and trudging back every evening three
miles to Beverly Stoke. Every morning he ran into the cottage for a
sight of little Jean and every evening after a digestion-racking meal
prepared by Mrs. Buttershaw he went to the cottage armed with toys
and weird and injudicious food for little Jean and demanded an account
of the precious infant's doings during the day. Gradually Jean
recovered of his congestion, being a sturdy urchin, and, to Aristide's
delight, resumed the normal life of childhood.

"_Moi, je suis papa_," said Aristide. "He has got to speak French, and
he had better begin at once. It is absurd that anyone born between Salon
and Arles should not speak French and Provençal; we'll leave Provençal
till later. _Moi, je suis papa, Jean._ Say _papa_."

"I don't quite see how he can call you that, Mr. Pujol," said Anne, with
the suspicion of a flush on her cheek.

"And why not? Has the poor child any other papa in the whole wide world?
And at four years old not to have a father is heart-breaking. Do you
want us to bring him up an orphan? No. You shan't be an orphan, _mon
brave_," he continued, bending over the child and putting his little
hands against his bearded face, "you couldn't bear such a calamity,
could you? And so you will call me _papa_."

"_Papa_," said Jean, with a grin.

"There, he has settled it," said Aristide. "_Moi je suis papa._ And you,
mademoiselle?"

"I am Auntie Anne," she replied demurely.

Saturday afternoons and Sundays were Aristide's days of delight. He
could devote himself entirely to Jean. The thrill of the weeks when he
had paraded the child in the market places of France while he sold his
corn cure again ran through his veins. The two rows of cottages
separated by the common, which was the whole of Beverly Stoke, became
too small a theatre for his parental pride. He bewailed the loss of his
automobile that had perished of senile decay at Aix-en-Provence. If he
only had it now he could exhibit Jean to the astonished eyes of St.
Albans, Watford--nay London itself!

"I wish I could take him to Dulau & Company," said he.

"Good Heavens!" cried Miss Anne in alarm, for Aristide was capable of
everything. "What in the world would you do with him there?"

"What would I do with him?" replied Aristide, picking the child up in
his arms--the three were strolling on the common--"_Parbleu!_ I would
use him to strike the staff of Dulau & Company green with envy. Do you
think the united efforts of the whole lot of them, from the good Mr.
Blessington to the office boy, could produce a hero like this? You are a
hero, Jean, aren't you?"

"Yes, papa," said Jean.

"He knows it," shouted Aristide with a delighted gesture which nearly
cast Jean to the circumambient geese. "Miss Anne, we have the most
wonderful child in the universe."

This, as far as Anne was concerned, was a proposition which for the past
three years she had regarded as incontrovertible. She smiled at
Aristide, who smiled at her, and Jean, seeing them happy, smiled largely
at them both.

In a very short time Aristide, who could magically manufacture boats
and cocks and pigs and giraffes out of bits of paper, who could bark
like a dog and quack like a goose, who could turn himself into a horse
or a bear at a minute's notice, whose pockets were a perennial mine of
infantile ecstasy, established himself in Jean's mind as a kind of
tame, necessary and beloved jinn. Being a loyal little soul, the child
retained his affection for Auntie Anne, but he was swept off his
little feet by his mirific parent. The time came when, if he was not
dressed in his tiny woollen jersey and knee breeches and had not his
nose glued against the parlour window in readiness to scramble to the
front door for Aristide's morning kiss, he would have thought that
chaos had come again. And Anne, humouring the child, hastened to get
him washed and dressed in time; until at last, so greatly was she
affected by his obsession, she got into the foolish habit of watching
the clock and saying to herself: "In another minute he will be here,"
or: "He is a minute late. What can have happened to him?"

So Aristide, in his childlike way, found remarkable happiness in
Beverly Stoke. A very wet summer had been followed by a dry and mellow
autumn. Aristide waxed enthusiastic over the English climate and
rejoiced in the mild country air. He was also happy under my friend
Blessington, who spoke of him to me in glowing terms. At the back of
all Aristide's eccentricities was the Provençal peasant's shrewdness.
He realized that, for the first time in his life, he had taken up a
sound and serious avocation. Also, he was no longer irresponsible. He
had found little Jean. Jean's future was in his hands. Jean was to be
an architect--God knows why--but Aristide settled it, definitely,
off-hand. He would have to be educated. "And, my dear friend," said
he, when we were discussing Jean--and for months I heard nothing but
Jean, Jean, Jean, so that I loathed the brat, until I met the
brown-skinned, black-eyed, merry little wretch and fell, like
everybody else, fatuously in love with him--"my dear friend," said he,
"an architect, to be the architect that I mean him to be, must have
universal knowledge. He must know the first word of the classic, the
last word of the modern. He must be steeped in poetry, his brain must
vibrate with science. He must be what you call in England a gentleman.
He must go to one of your great public schools--Eton, Winchester,
Rugby, Harrow--you see I know them all--he must go to Cambridge or
Oxford. Ah, I tell you, he is to be a big man. I, Aristide Pujol, did
not pick him up on that deserted road, in the Arabia Petrea of
Provence, between Salon and Arles, for nothing. He was wrapped, as I
have told you, in an old blanket--and _ma foi_ it smelt bad--and I
dressed him in my pyjamas and made a Neapolitan cap for him out of one
of my socks. The _bon Dieu_ sent him, and I shall arrange just as the
_bon Dieu_ intended. Poor Miss Anne Honeywood with her ninety pounds a
year, what can she do? Pouf! It is for me to look after the future of
little Jean."

By means of such discourse he convinced Miss Anne that Jean was
predestined to greatness and that Providence had appointed him,
Aristide, as the child's agent in advance. Very much bewildered by his
riotous flow of language and very reluctant to sacrifice her woman's
pride, she agreed to allow him to contribute towards Jean's upbringing.

"Dear Miss Anne," said he, "it is my right. It is Jean's right. You
would love to put him on top of the pinnacle of fame, would you not?"

"Of course," said Miss Anne.

"_Eh bien!_ we will work together. You will give him what can be given
by a beautiful and exquisite woman, and I will do all that can be done
by the accredited agent of Dulau et Compagnie, Wine Shippers of
Bordeaux."

So, I repeat, Aristide was entirely happy. His waking dreams were of the
four-year-old child. The glad anticipation of the working day in Great
Tower St., E. C., was the evening welcome from the simple but capable
gentlewoman and the sense of home and intimacy in her little parlour no
bigger than the never-entered and nerve-destroying salon of his parents
at Aigues Mortes, but smiling with the grace of old oak and faded
chintz. At Aigues Mortes the salon was a comfortless, tasteless
convention, set apart for the celebrations of baptisms and marriages and
deaths, a pride and a terror to the inhabitants. But here everything
seemed to be as much a warm bit of Anne Honeywood as the tortoise-shell
comb in her hair and the square of Brussels lace that rose and fell on
the bosom of her old evening frock. For, you see, since she expected a
visitor in the evenings, Anne had taken to dressing for her sketch of a
dinner. For all her struggle with poverty she had retained the charm
that four years before had made her touch upon Jean seem a consecration
to the impressionable man. And now that he entered more deeply into her
life and thoughts, he found himself in fragrant places that were very
strange to him. He discovered, too, with some surprise, that a man who
has been at fierce grips with Fortune all his life from ten to forty is
ever so little tired in spirit and is glad to rest. In the tranquility
of Anne Honeywood's presence his soul was singularly at peace. He also
wondered why Anne Honeywood seemed to grow younger, and, in her gentle
fashion, more laughter-loving, every day.

The Saint Martin's summer lasted to the beginning of December, and then
it came to an end, and with it the idyll of Aristide and Anne Honeywood.

One Saturday afternoon, when the rain was falling dismally, she received
him with an embarrassment she could scarcely conceal. The usual
heightened colour no longer gave youth to her cheek; an anxious frown
knitted her candid brows; and there was no laughter in her eyes. He
looked at her questioningly. Was anything the matter with Jean? But Jean
answered the question for himself by running down the passage and
springing like a puppy into Aristide's arms. Anne turned her face away,
as if the sight pained her, and, pleading a headache and the desire to
lie down, she left the two together. Returning after a couple of hours
with the tea-tray, she found them on the floor breathlessly absorbed in
the erection of card pagodas. She bit her lip and swallowed a sob.
Aristide jumped up and took the tray. Was not the headache better? He
was so grieved. Jean must be very quiet and drink up his milk quietly
like a hero because Auntie was suffering. Tea was a very subdued affair.
Then Anne carried off Jean to bed, refusing Aristide's helpful
ministrations. It was his Saturday and Sunday joy to bath Jean amid a
score of crawly tin insects which he had provided for the child's
ablutionary entertainment, and it formed the climax of Jean's blissful
day. But this afternoon Anne tore the twain asunder. Aristide looked
mournfully over the rain-swept common through the leaded panes, and
speculated on the enigma of woman. A man, feeling ill, would have been
only too glad for somebody to do his work; but a woman, just because she
was ill, declined assistance. Surely women were an intellect-baffling
sex.

She came back, having put Jean to bed.

"My dear friend," she said, with a blurt of bravery, "I have something
very hard to say, but I must say it. You must go away from Beverly
Stoke."

"Ah!" cried Aristide, "is it I, then, that give you a headache?"

"It's not your fault," she said gently. "You have been everything that a
loyal gentleman could be--and it's because you're a loyal gentleman that
you must go."

"I don't understand," said he, puzzled. "I must go away because I give
you a headache, although it is not my fault."

"It's nothing to do with headaches," she explained. "Don't you see?
People around here are talking."

"About you and me?"

"Yes," said Miss Anne, faintly.

"_Saprelotte!_" cried Aristide, with a fine flourish, "let them talk!"

"Against Jean and myself?"

The reproach brought him to his feet. "No," said he. "No. Sooner than
they should talk, I would go out and strangle every one of them. But it
is infamous. What do they say?"

"How can I tell you? What would they say in your own country?"

"France is France and England is England."

"And a little cackling village is the same all the world over. No, my
dear friend--for you are my dear friend--you must go back to London, for
the sake of my good name and Jean's."

"But let us leave the cackling village."

"There are geese on every common," said Anne.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" muttered Aristide, walking about the tiny parlour.
"_Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_" He stood in front of her and flung out
his arms wide. "But without Jean and you life will have no meaning for
me. I shall die. I shall fade away. I shall perish. Tell me, dear Miss
Anne, what they are saying, the miserable peasants with souls of mud."

But Anne could tell him no more. It had been hateful and degrading to
tell him so much. She shivered through all her purity. After a barren
discussion she held out her hand, large and generous like herself.

"Good-bye"--she hesitated for the fraction of a second--"Good-bye,
Aristide. I promise you shall provide for Jean's future. I will bring
him up to London now and then to see you. We will find some way out of
the difficulty. But you see, don't you, that you must leave Beverly
Stoke?"

Aristide went back to his comfortless lodgings aflame with bewilderment,
indignation and despair. He fell upon Mrs. Buttershaw, a slatternly and
sour-visaged woman, and hurled at her a tornado of questions. She
responded with the glee of a hag, and Aristide learned the amazing fact
that in the matter of sheer uncharitableness, unkindness and foulness of
thought Beverly Stoke, with its population of three hundred hinds, could
have brought down upon it the righteous indignation of Sodom, Gomorrah,
Babylon, Paris, and London. For a fortnight or so Anne Honeywood's life
in the village had been that of a pariah dog.

"And now you've spoke of it yourself," said Mrs. Buttershaw, her hands
on her hips, "I'm glad. I'm a respectable woman, I am, and go to church
regularly, and I don't want to be mixed up in such goings on. And I
never have held with foreigners, anyway. And the sooner you find other
lodgings, the better."

For the first and only time in his life words failed Aristide Pujol. He
stood in front of the virtuous harridan, his lips working, his fingers
convulsively clutching the air.

"You--you--you--you naughty woman!" he gasped, and, sweeping her away
from the doorway of his box of a sitting-room, he rushed up to his
tinier bedroom and in furious haste packed his portmanteau.

"I would rather die than sleep another night beneath your slanderous
roof," he cried at the foot of the stairs. "Here is more than your
week's money." He flung a couple of gold coins on the floor and dashed
out into the darkness and the rain.

He hammered at Anne Honeywood's door. She opened it in some alarm.

"You?--but----" she stammered.

"I have come," said he, dumping his portmanteau in the passage, "to take
you and Jean away from this abomination of a place. It is a Tophet
reserved for those who are not good enough for hell. In hell there is
dignity, _que diable!_ Here there is none. I know what you have
suffered. I know how they insult you. I know what they say. You cannot
stay one more night here. Pack up all your things. Pack up all Jean's
things. I have my valise here. I walk to St. Albans and I come back for
you in an automobile. You lock up the door. I tell the policeman to
guard the cottage. You come with me. We take a train to London. You and
Jean will stay at a hotel. I will go to my good friend who saved me
from Madam Gougasse. After that we will think."

"That's just like you," she said, smiling in spite of her trouble, "you
act first and think afterwards. Unfortunately I'm in the habit of doing
the reverse."

"But it's I who am doing all the thinking for you. I have thought till
my brain is red hot." He laughed in his luminous and excited way, and,
seizing both her hands, kissed them one after the other. "There!" said
he, "be ready by the time I return. Do not hesitate. Do not look back.
Remember Lot's wife!" He flourished his hat and was gone like a flash
into the heavy rain and darkness of the December evening. Anne cried
after him, but he too remembering Lot's wife would not turn. He marched
on buoyantly, heedless of the wet and the squirting mud from unseen
puddles. It was an adventure such as he loved. It was a knightly errand,
_parbleu!_ Was he not delivering a beautiful lady from the dragon of
calumny? And in an automobile, too! His imagination fondled the idea.

At a garage in St. Albans he readily found a car for hire. He was all
for driving it himself--that is how he had pictured the rescue--but the
proprietor, dull and unimaginative tradesman, declined firmly. It was a
hireling who drove the car to Beverly Stoke. Anne, unhatted and
uncloaked, admitted him.

"You are not ready?"

"My dear friend, how can I----?"

"You are not coming?" His hands dropped to his sides and his face was
the incarnation of disappointment.

"Let us talk things over reasonably," she urged, opening the parlour
door.

"But I have brought the automobile."

"He can wait for five minutes, can't he?"

"He can wait till Doomsday," said Aristide.

"Take off your dripping coat. You must be wet through. Oh, how impulsive
you are!"

He took off his overcoat dejectedly and followed her into the parlour,
where she tried to point out the impossibility of his scheme. How could
she abandon her home at a moment's notice? Failing to convince him, she
said at last in some embarrassment, but with gentle dignity: "Suppose we
did run away together in your romantic fashion, would it not confirm the
scandal in the eyes of this wretched village?"

"You are right," said Aristide. "I had not thought of it."

He knew himself to be a madman. It was not thus that ladies were rescued
from calumny. But to leave her alone to face it for time indefinite was
unthinkable. And, meanwhile, what would become of him severed from her
and little Jean? He sighed and looked around the little room where he
had been so happy, and at the sweet-faced woman whose companionship had
been so dear to him. And then the true meaning of all the precious
things that had been his life for the past two months appeared before
him like a smiling valley hitherto hidden and now revealed by dissolving
mist. A great gladness gathered round his heart. He leaned across the
table by which he was sitting and looked at her and for the first time
noticed that her eyes were red.

"You have been crying, dear Anne," said he, using her name boldly.
"Why?"

A man ought not to put a question like that at a woman's head and bid
her stand and deliver. How is she to answer? Anne felt Aristide's bright
eyes upon her and the colour mounted and mounted and deepened on her
cheeks and brow.

"I don't like changes," she said in a low voice.

Aristide slipped noiselessly to the side of her chair and knelt on one
knee and took her hand.

"Anne--my beloved Anne!" said he.

And Anne neither moved nor protested, but looked away from him into the
fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

And that is all that Aristide told me. There are sacred and beautiful
things in life that one man does not tell to another. He did, however,
mention that they forgot all about the unfortunate chauffeur sitting in
the rain till about three hours afterwards, when Aristide sped away to a
St. Albans hotel in joyous solitude.

The very next day he burst in upon me in a state of bliss bordering on
mania.

"But there is a tragic side to it," he said when the story was over.
"For half the year I shall be exiled to Bordeaux, Marseilles and Algiers
as the representative of Dulau et Compagnie."

"The very best thing that could happen for your domestic happiness,"
said I.

"What? With my heart"--he thumped his heart--"with my heart hurting like
the devil all the time?"

"So long as your heart hurts," said I, "you know it isn't dead."

A short while afterwards they were married in London. I was best man and
Jean, specklessly attired, was page of honour, and the vicar of her own
church at Chislehurst performed the ceremony. The most myopic of
creatures could have seen that Anne was foolishly in love with her
rascal husband. How could she help it?

As soon as the newly wedded pair had received the exhortation, Aristide,
darting to the altar-rail, caught Jean up in his arms, and, to the
consternation of the officiating clergy, the verger, and Anne's
conventional friends, cried out exultingly:

"_Ah, mon petit._ It was a lucky day for both of us when I picked you
up on the road between Salon and Arles. Put your hands together as you
do when you're saying your prayers, _mon brave_, and say, 'God bless
father and mother.'"

Jean obediently adopted the attitude of the infant Samuel in the
pictures.

"God bless father and mother," said he, and the childish treble rang out
queerly in the large, almost empty church.

There was a span of silence and then all the women-folk fell on little
Jean and that was the end of that wedding.


                                THE END.


       *       *       *       *       *



 THE GLORY OF CLEMENTINA
 BY
 William J. Locke

 Author of "The Belovèd Vagabond," "Simon the Jester," etc.

 _Cloth_      _12mo_      _$1.30 net_      _Postage 12 cents_

 Illustrations by Arthur I. Keller

"Mr. Locke has succeeded in uniting with the firm carefulness of his
early work the rapid, fluent, vibrating style that makes his later books
so delightful; therefore it is easy to make the deduction that
'Clementina' is the best piece of work he has done."--_New York Evening
Sun_

"Among the novels of the past five years no books have more consistently
produced an effect at once certain, satisfactory and delightful than
those of William J. Locke. This latest addition to his shelf is full of
life and laughter and the love not only of man for woman but of man for
man and for humanity. Mr. Locke is a born story-teller and a master of
the art of expression."--_The Outlook_

"The book contains a mass of good material, with original
characterization, and is written in a style piquant and clever."--_The
Literary Digest_

"A story containing the essence of humanity, with an abundance of
sensible and sensitive, casual and unobtrusive commentary upon life and
man, and especially upon woman."--_Boston Evening Transcript_

"It contains even more of the popular qualities than are usually
associated with the writings of this noted author."--_Boston Times_

"Mr. Locke's flights into the realms of fancy have been a delight to
many readers. He has a lightness of touch that is entirely captivating,
and his remarkable characterization of inconsequent people gives them a
reality that is very insistent."--_Baltimore Evening Sun_

"Never has he drawn so deeply from that well that is the human heart;
never so near those invisible heights which are the soul; and, if we are
not altogether mistaken, 'The Glory of Clementina' will also prove to be
that of its author."--_Baltimore News_

"A fascinating story with delicate, whimsical touches."--_Albany
Times-Union_

"The book seems destined to live longer than any written by the author
to date, because it is so sane and so fundamentally
true."--_Philadelphia Enquirer_


JOHN LANE CO., NEW YORK



 MANALIVE
 BY
 Gilbert K. Chesterton

 Author of "The Innocence of Father Brown," "Heretics," "Orthodoxy," etc.

 _Cloth_      _12mo_      _$1.30 net_      _Postage 12 cents_

 Frontispiece and Jacket Illustration by Will Foster

"Mr. Chesterton has undertaken in this quaint narrative to make
burlesque the vehicle of a sermon and a philosophy. It is all a part of
the author's war upon artificial attitudes which enclose the living men
like a shell and make for human purposes a dead man of him. He speaks
here in a parable--a parable of his own kind, having about it a broad
waggishness like that of Mr. Punch and a distinct flavor of that sort of
low comedy which one finds in Dickens and Shakespeare. You are likely to
find, before you are done with the parable, that there has been forced
upon your attention a possible view of the life worth living. 'Manalive'
is a 'Peterpantheistic' novel full of Chestertonisms."--_New York Times_

"One of the oddest books Mr. Chesterton has yet given us."--_New York
Evening Globe_

"The fun of the book (and there is plenty of it) comes quite as much
from the extraordinary and improbable characters as from the situations.
Epigrams, witticisms, odd fancies, queer conceits, singular whimsies,
follow after one another in quick succession."--_Brooklyn Eagle_


"One of the most humorous tales of modern fiction, combined with a very
tender and appealing love story."--_Cleveland Plain Dealer_

"The book is certain to have a wide circulation, not only because of the
name of the author attached to it, but because of its own intrinsic
worth."--_Buffalo Commercial_

"There can be no doubt as to the iridescent brilliance of the book. Page
after page--full of caustic satire, humorous sally and profound
epigram--fairly bristles with merriment. The book is a compact mass of
scintillating wit."--_Philadelphia Public Ledger_


JOHN LANE CO., NEW YORK





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home