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Title: The Belovéd Vagabond
Author: Locke, William John, 1863-1930
Language: English
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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.

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THE BELOVÉD VAGABOND



THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM J. LOCKE

          IDOLS
          SEPTIMUS
          DERELICTS
          THE USURPER
          WHERE LOVE IS
          THE WHITE DOVE
          SIMON THE JESTER
          A STUDY IN SHADOWS
          THE BELOVÉD VAGABOND
          AT THE GATE OF SAMARIA
          THE MORALS OF MARCUS ORDEYNE
          THE DEMAGOGUE AND LADY PHAYRE



The Belovéd Vagabond

By William J. Locke

Author of

"Septimus," "Idols," Etc.

[Illustration]

          A. L. BURT COMPANY
          Publishers         New York



          Copyright, 1905

          BY JOHN LANE
          Copyright, 1900

          BY JOHN LANE COMPANY


          SET UP, ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY
          THE PUBLISHERS PRINTING CO., NEW YORK



THE BELOVÉD VAGABOND



CHAPTER I


THIS is not a story about myself. Like Canning's organ-grinder I have
none to tell. It is the story of Paragot, the belovéd vagabond--please
pronounce his name French-fashion--and if I obtrude myself on your
notice it is because I was so much involved in the medley of farce and
tragedy which made up some years of his life, that I don't know how to
tell the story otherwise. To Paragot I owe everything. He is at once my
benefactor, my venerated master, my beloved friend, my creator. Clay in
his hands, he moulded me according to his caprice, and inspired me with
the breath of life. My existence is drenched with the colour of Paragot.
I lay claim to no personality of my own, and any _obiter dicta_ that may
fall from my pen in the course of the ensuing narrative are but
reflections of Paragot's philosophy. Men have spoken evil of him. He
snapped his fingers at calumny, but I winced, never having reached the
calm altitudes of scorn wherein his soul has its habitation. I burned to
defend him, and I burn now; and that is why I propose to write his
_apologia_, his justification.

Why he singled me out for adoption from among the unwashed urchins of
London I never could conjecture. Once I asked him.

"Because," said he, "you were ugly, dirty, ricketty, under-sized,
underfed and wholly uninteresting. Also because your mother was the very
worst washer-woman that ever breathed gin into a shirt-front."

I did not resent these charges, direct and implied, against my mother.
She did launder villainously, and she did drink gin, and of the nine
uncared-for gutter-snipes she brought into the world, I think I was the
most unkempt and neglected. I know that Sunday-school books tell you to
love your mother; but if the only maternal caresses you could remember
were administered by means of a wet pair of woollen drawers or the edge
of a hot flat-iron, you would find filial piety a virtue somewhat
abstract. Verily do earwigs care more for their progeny than did my
mother. She sold me body and soul to Paragot for half-a-crown.

It fell out thus.

One morning, laden with his--technically speaking--clean linen, I
knocked at the door of Paragot's chambers. He called them chambers, for
he was nothing if not grandiloquent, but really they consisted in an
attic in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, above the curious club over
which he presided. I knocked, then, at the door. A sonorous voice bade
me enter. Paragot lay in bed, smoking a huge pipe with a porcelain bowl
and reading a book. The fact of one individual having a room all to
himself impressed me so greatly with a sense of luxury, refinement and
power, that I neglected to observe its pitifulness and squalor. Nor of
Paragot's personal appearance was I critical. He had long black hair,
and a long black beard, and long black finger-nails. The last were so
long and commanding that I thought ashamedly of my own bitten
fingertips, and vowed that when I too became a great man, able to smoke
a porcelain pipe of mornings in my own room, my nails should equal his
in splendour.

"I have brought the washing, Sir," I announced, "and, please, Sir,
mother says I'm not to let you have it unless you settle up for the last
three weeks."

I had a transient vision of swarthy, hairy legs, as Paragot leaped out
of bed. He stood over me, man of all the luxuries that he was, in his
nightshirt. Fancy having a shirt for the day and a shirt for the night!

"Do you mean that you will dispute possession of it with me, _vi et
armis_?"

"Yes, Sir," said I, confused.

He laughed, clapped me on the shoulder, called me David, Jack the
Giant-Killer, and bade me deliver the washing-book. I fumbled in the
pocket of my torn jacket and handed him a greasy, dog's-eared mass of
paper. As soon as his eyes fell on it, I realised my mistake, and
produced the washing book from the other pocket.

"I've given you the wrong one, Sir," said I, reaching for the treasure I
had surrendered.

But he threw himself on his bed and dived his legs beneath the clothes.

"Wonderful!" he cried. "He is four foot nothing, he looks like a yard of
pack-thread, he would fight me for an ill-washed shirt and a pair of
holes with bits of sock round them, and he reads 'Paradise Lost'!"

He made a gesture of throwing the disreputable epic at my head, and I
curved my arm in an attitude only too familiarly defensive.

"I found it in a bundle of washing, Sir," I cried apologetically.

At home reading was the unforgivable sin. Had my mother discovered me
poring over the half intelligible but wholly fascinating story of Adam
and Eve and the Devil, she would have beaten me with the first implement
to her hand. I had a moment's terror lest the possession of a work of
literature should be so horrible a crime that even Paragot would
chastise me.

To my consternation he thrust the tattered thing--it was an antiquated
sixpenny edition--under my nose and commanded me to read.

"'Of Man's first disobedience'--Go on. If you can read it intelligently
I'll pay your mother. If you can't I'll write to her politely to say
that I resent having my washing sent home by persons of no education."

I began in great fear, but having, I suppose, an instinctive
appreciation of letters, I mouthed the rolling lines not too brokenly.

"What's a Heavenly Muse?" asked Paragot, as soon as I paused. I had not
the faintest idea.

"Do you think it's a Paradisiacal back yard where they keep the Horse of
the Apocalypse?"

I caught a twinkle in the blue eyes which he bent fiercely upon me.

"If you please, Sir," said I, "I think it is the Bird of Paradise."

Then we both laughed; and Paragot bidding me sit on the wreck of a
cane-bottomed chair, gave me my first lesson in Greek Mythology. He
talked for nearly an hour, and I, ragged urchin of the London streets,
my wits sharpened by hunger and ill-usage, sat spell-bound on my
comfortless perch, while he unfolded the tale of Gods and Goddesses, and
unveiled Olympus before my enraptured vision.

"Boy," said he suddenly, "can you cook a herring?"

I came down to earth with a bang. Stunned I stared at him. I distinctly
remember wondering where I was.

"Can you cook a herring?" he shouted.

"Yes, Sir," I cried, jumping to my feet.

"Then cook two--one for you and one for me. You'll find them somewhere
about the room, also tea and bread and butter and a gas-stove, and when
all is ready let me know."

He settled himself comfortably in bed and went on reading his book. It
was Hegel's Philosophy of History. I tried to read it afterwards and
found that it passed my understanding.

In a confused dream of gods and herrings, I set about my task. Heaven
only knows how I managed to succeed. In my childish imagination Jupiter
was clothed in the hirsute majesty of Paragot.

And I was to breakfast with him!

The herrings and a half-smoked pipe shared a plate on the top of the
ricketty chest of drawers. I had to blow the ash off the fish. A paper
of tea and a loaf of bread I found in a higgledy-piggledy mixture of
clothes, books and papers. My godlike friend had carelessly put his
hair-brush into the butter. The condition of the sole cooking utensil
warred even against my sense of the fitness of gridirons, and I cleansed
it with his towel.

Since then I have breakfasted in the houses of the wealthy, I have
lunched at the Café Anglais, I have dined at the Savoy but never have I
eaten, never till they give me a welcoming banquet in the Elysian fields,
shall I eat so ambrosial a meal as that first herring with Paragot.

When I had set it on the little deal table, he deigned to remember my
existence, and closing his book, rose, donned a pair of trousers and sat
down. He gave me my first lesson in table-manners.

"Boy," said he, "if you wish to adorn the high social spheres for which
you are destined, you must learn the value of convention. Bread and
cheese-straws and asparagus and the leaves of an artichoke are eaten
with the fingers; but not herrings or sweetbreads or ice cream. As
regards the last you are doubtless in the habit of extracting it from a
disappointing wine-glass with your tongue. This in _notre monde_ is
regarded as bad form. '_Notre Monde_' is French, a language which you
will have to learn. Its great use is in talking to English people when
you don't want them to understand what you say. They pretend they do,
for they are too vain to admit their ignorance. The wise man profits by
the vanity of his fellow-creatures. If I were not wise after this
manner, should I be here eating herrings in Tavistock Street, Covent
Garden?"

I was too full of food and adoration to reply. I gazed at him dumbly
worshipping and choked over a cup of tea. When I recovered he questioned
me as to my home life, my schooling, my ideas of a future state and my
notions of a career in this world. The height of my then ambition was to
keep a fried-fish shop. The restaurateur with whom my good mother dealt
used to sit for hours in his doorway in Drury Lane reading a book, and I
considered this a most dignified and scholarly avocation. When I made
this naïve avowal to Paragot, he looked at me with a queer pity in his
eyes, and muttered an exclamation in a foreign tongue. I have never met
anyone so full of strange oaths as Paragot. As to my religious
convictions, they were chiefly limited to a terrifying conception of the
hell to which my mother daily consigned me. In devils, fires, chains and
pitchforks its establishment was as complete as any _inferno_ depicted
by Orcagna. I used to wake up of nights in a cold sweat through dreaming
of it.

"My son," said Paragot, "the most eminent divines of the Church of
England will tell you that a material hell with consuming flames is an
exploded fallacy. I can tell you the same without being an eminent
divine. The wicked carry their own hell about with them during
life--here, somewhere between the gullet and the pit of the stomach, and
it prevents their enjoyment of herrings which smell vilely of gas."

"There ain't no devils, then?" I asked.

"_Sacré mille diables_, No!" he shouted. "Haven't I been exhausting
myself with telling you so?"

I said little, but to this day I remember the thrilling sense of
deliverance from a horror which had gone far to crush the little
childish joy allowed me by circumstance. There was no fiery hell, no
red-hot pincers, no eternal frizzling and sizzling of the flesh, like
unto that of the fish in Mr. Samuel's fish-shop. Paragot had transformed
me by a word into a happy young pagan. My eyes swam as I swallowed my
last bit of bread and butter.

"What is your name?" asked Paragot.

"Augustus, Sir."

"Augustus, what?"

"Smith," I murmured. "Same as mother's."

"I was forgetting," said he. "Now if there is one name I dislike more
than Smith it is Augustus. I have been thinking of a very nice name for
you. It is Asticot. It expresses you better than Augustus Smith."

"It is a very good name, Sir," said I politely.

I learned soon after that it is a French word meaning the little grey
worms which fishermen call "gentles," and that it was not such a
complimentary appellation as I had imagined; but Asticot I became, and
Asticot I remained for many a year.

"Wash up the things, my little Asticot," said he, "and afterwards we
will discuss future arrangements."

According to his directions I took the tray down to a kind of scullery
on the floor below. The wet plates and cups I dried on a greasy rag
which I found lying on the sink; and this seemed to me a refinement of
luxurious living; for at home, when we did wash plates, we merely held
them under the tap till the remains of food ran off, and we never
thought of drying them. When I returned to the bedroom Paragot was
dressed for the day. His long lean wrists and hands protruded far
through the sleeves of an old brown jacket. He wore a grey flannel shirt
and an old bit of black ribbon done up in a bow by way of a tie; his
slouch hat, once black, was now green with age, and his boots were
innocent of blacking. But my eyes were dazzled by a heavy gold watch
chain across his waistcoat and I thought him the most glorious of
betailored beings.

"My little Asticot," said he, "would you like to forsake your gentle
mother's wash-tub and your dreams of a fried-fish shop and enter my
service? I, the heir of all the ages, am driven by Destiny to running
The Lotus Club downstairs. We call it 'Lotus' because we eat tripe to
banish memory. The members meet together in order to eat tripe, drink
beer and hear me talk. You can eat tripe and hear me talk too, and that
will improve both your mind and your body. While Cherubino, the waiter,
teaches you how to be a scullion, I will instruct you in philosophy. The
sofa in the Club will make an excellent bed for you, and your wages will
be eighteen pence a week."

He thrust his hands in his trouser pockets, and rattling his money
looked at me with an enquiring air. I returned his gaze for a while,
lost in a delirious wonder. I tried to speak. Something stuck in my
throat. I broke into a blubber and dried my eyes with my knuckles.

It was an intoxicated little Asticot that trotted by his side to my
mother's residence. There over gin-and-water the bargain was struck. My
mother pocketed half-a-crown and with shaky unaccustomed fingers signed
her name across a penny-stamp at the foot of a document which Paragot
had drawn up. I believe each of them was convinced that they had
executed a legal deed. My mother after inspecting me critically for a
moment wiped my nose with the piece of sacking that served as her apron
and handed me over to Paragot, who marched away with his purchase as
proud as if I had been a piece of second-hand furniture picked up cheap.

I may as well remark here that Paragot was not his real name; neither
was Josiah Henkendyke by which he was then known to me. He had a
harmless mania for names, and I have known him use half a dozen. But
that of Paragot which he assumed later as his final alias is the one
with which he is most associated in my mind, and to avoid confusion I
must call him that from the start. Indeed, looking backward down the
years, I wonder how he could ever have been anything else than Paragot.
That Phoebus Apollo could once have borne the name of John Jones is
unimaginable.

"Boy," said he, as we retraced our steps to Tavistock Street, "you are
my thing, my chattel, my _famulus_. No slave of old belonged more
completely to a free-born citizen. You will address me as 'master'!"

"Yes, Sir," said I.

"Master!" he shouted. "_Master_ or _maître_ or _maestro_ or _magister_
according to the language you are speaking. Now do you understand?"

"Yes, Master," said I.

He nodded approval. At the corner of a by-street he stopped short and
held me at arm's length.

"You are a horrible object, my little Asticot," said he. "I must clothe
you in a manner befitting the Lotus Club."

He ran me into a slop-dealer's and fitted me out in sundry garments in
which, although they were several sizes too large for me, I felt myself
clad like Solomon in all his glory. Then we went home. On the way up to
his room he paused at the scullery. A dishevelled woman was tidying up.

"Mrs. Housekeeper," said he, "allow me to present you our new scullion
pupil. Kindly instruct him in his duties, feed him and wash his head.
Also please remember that he answers to the name of Asticot."

He swung on his heel and went downstairs humming a tune. I remained with
Mrs. Housekeeper who carried out his instructions zealously. I can feel
the soreness on my scalp to this day.

Thus it fell out that I quitted the maternal roof and entered the
service of Paragot. I never saw my mother again, as she died soon
afterwards; and as my brood of brothers and sisters vanished down the
diverse gutters of London, I found myself with Paragot for all my
family; and now that I have arrived at an age when a man can look back
dispassionately on his past, it is my pride that I can lay my hand on my
heart and avow him to be the best family that boy ever had.



CHAPTER II


THE Lotus Club was the oddest society I have met. The premises
consisted of one long dingy room with two dingy windows: the
furniture of a long table covered with dirty American cloth, a
multitude of wooden chairs, an old sofa, two dilapidated dinner-waggons,
and a frame against the wall from which, by means of clips, churchwarden
pipes depended stem downwards; and by each clip was a label bearing a
name. On the table stood an enormous jar of tobacco. A number of
ill-washed glasses decorated the dinner-waggons. There was not a curtain,
not a blind,  not a picture. The further end of the room away from the
door contained a huge fireplace, and on the wooden mantelpiece ticked
a three-and-sixpenny clock.

During the daytime it was an abode of abominable desolation. No one came
near it until nine o'clock in the evening, when one or two members
straggled in, took down their long pipes and called for whisky or beer,
the only alcoholic beverages the club provided. These were kept in great
barrels in the scullery, presided over by Mrs. Housekeeper until it was
time to prepare the supper, when Cherubino and I helped ourselves. At
eleven the cloth was laid. From then till half past members came in
considerable numbers. At half past supper was served. A steaming dish of
tripe furnished the head of the table in front of Paragot, and a cut of
cold beef the foot.

There were generally from fifteen to thirty present; men of all classes:
Journalists, actors, lawyers, out-at-elbows nondescripts. I have seen
one of Her Majesty's Judges and a prizefighter exchanging views across
the table. A few attended regularly; but the majority seemed to be
always new-comers. They supped, talked, smoked, and drank whisky until
two or three o'clock in the morning and appeared to enjoy themselves
prodigiously. I noticed that on departing they wrung Paragot fervently
by the hand and thanked him for their delightful evening. I remembered
his telling me that they came to hear him talk. He did talk: sometimes
so compellingly that I would stand stock-still rapt in reverential
ecstasy: once to the point of letting the potatoes I was handing round
roll off the dish on to the floor. I never was so rapt again; for
Cherubino picking up the potatoes and following my frightened exit,
broke them over my head on the landing, by way of chastisement. The best
barbers do not use hot mealy potatoes for the hair.

When the last guest had departed, Paragot mounted to his attic, Mrs.
Housekeeper and Cherubino went their several ways--each went several
ways, I think, for they had unchecked command during the evening over
the whisky and beer barrels--and I, dragging a bundle of bedclothes from
beneath the sofa, went to bed amid the fumes of tripe, gas, tobacco,
alcohol and humanity, and slept the sleep of perfect happiness.

In the morning, at about eleven, I rose and prepared breakfast for
Paragot and myself, which we ate together in his room. For a couple of
hours he instructed me in what he was pleased to call the humanities.
Then he sent me out into the street for air and exercise, with
instructions to walk to Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's
Cathedral, Whiteley's--he always had a fresh objective for me--and to
bring him back my views thereon and an account of what I had noticed on
the way. When I came home I delivered myself into the hands of Mrs.
Housekeeper and turned scullion again. The plates, glasses, knives and
forks of the previous evening's orgy were washed and cleaned, the room
swept and aired, and a meal cooked for Mrs. Housekeeper and myself which
we ate at a corner of the long table. Paragot himself dined out.

On Sunday evenings the Club was shut, and as Mrs. Housekeeper did not
make her appearance on the Sabbath, the remains of Saturday night's
supper stayed on the table till Monday afternoon. Imagine remains of
tripe thirty six hours old!

I mention this, not because it is of any great interest, but because it
exhibits a certain side of Paragot's character. In those early days I
was not critical. I lived in a maze of delight. Paragot was the Wonder
of the Earth, my bedroom a palace chamber, and the abominable Sunday
night smell pervaded my senses like the perfumes of all the Arabies.

"My son," said Paragot one morning, in the middle of a French
lesson--from the first he was bent on my learning the language--"My son,
I wonder whether you are going to turn out a young Caliban, and after I
have shewn you the True Divinity of Things, return to your dam's god
Setebos?"

He regarded me earnestly with his light blue eyes which looked so odd in
his swarthy black-bearded face.

"Is there any hope for the race of Sycorax?"

As we had read "The Tempest" the day before, I understood the
allusions.

"I would sooner be Ariel, Master," said I, by way of showing off my
learning.

"He was an ungrateful beggar too," said Paragot. He went on talking, but
I heard him not; for my childish mind quickly associated him with
Prospero, and I wondered where lay his magic staff with which he could
split pines and liberate tricksy spirits, and whether he had a beautiful
daughter hidden in some bower of Tavistock Street, and whether the
cadaverous Cherubino might not be a metamorphosed Ferdinand. He appeared
the embodiment of all wisdom and power, and yet he had the air of one
cheated of his kingdom. He seemed also to be of reverential age. As a
matter of fact he was not yet forty.

My attention was recalled by his rising and walking about the room.

"I am making this experiment on your vile body, my little Asticot," said
he, "to prove my Theory of Education. You have had, so far as it goes,
what is called an excellent Board School Training. You can read and
write and multiply sixty-four by thirty-seven in your head, and you can
repeat the Kings of England. If you had been fortunate and gone to a
Public school they would have stuffed your brain full of Greek verbs and
damned facts about triangles. But of the meaning of life, the value of
life, the art of life, you would never have had a glimmering perception.
I am going to educate you, my little Asticot, through the imagination.
The intellect can look after itself. We will go now to the National
Gallery."

He caught up his hat and threw me my cap, and we went out. He had a
sudden, breathless way of doing things. I am sure thirty seconds had
not elapsed between the idea of the National Gallery entering his head
and our finding ourselves on the stairs.

We went to the National Gallery. I came away with a reeling
undistinguishable mass of form and colour before my eyes. I felt sick.
Only one single picture stood out clear. Paragot talked Italian art to
my uncomprehending ears all the way home.

"Now," said he, when he had settled himself comfortably in his old
wicker-work chair again, "which of the pictures did you like best?"

Why that particular picture (save that it is the supreme art of a
supreme genius) should have alone fixed itself on my mind, I do not
know. It has been one of the psychological puzzles of my life.

"A man's head, master," said I; "I can't describe it, but I think I
could draw it."

"Draw it?" he echoed incredulously.

"Yes, Master."

He pulled a stump of pencil from his pocket and threw it to me. I felt
luminously certain I could draw the head. A curious exaltation filled me
as I sat at a corner of the table before a flattened-out piece of paper
that had wrapped up tea. Paragot stood over me, as I drew.

"_Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_" cried he. "It is Gian Bellini's Doge
Loredano. But what made you remember that picture, and how in the name
of Board schools could you manage to draw it?"

He walked swiftly up and down the room.

"_Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!_"

"I used to draw horses and men on my slate at school," said I modestly.

Paragot filled his porcelain pipe and walked about strangely excited.
Suddenly he stopped.

"My little Asticot," said he, "you had better go down and help Mrs.
Housekeeper to wash up the dirty plates and dishes, for your soul's
sake."

What my soul had to do with greasy crockery I could not in the least
fathom; but the next morning Paragot gave me a drawing lesson. It would
be false modesty for me to say that I did not show talent, since the
making of pictures is the means whereby I earn my living at the present
moment. The gift once discovered, I exercised it in and out of season.

"My son," said Paragot, when I showed him a sketch of Mrs. Housekeeper
as she lay on the scullery floor one Saturday night, unable to go any
one of her several ways, "I am afraid you are an artist. Do you know
what an artist is?"

I didn't. He pronounced the word in tones of such deep melancholy that I
felt it must denote something particularly depraved.

"It is the man who has the power of doing up his soul in whitey-brown
paper parcels and selling them at three halfpence apiece."

This was at breakfast one morning while he was chipping an egg. Only two
eggs furnished forth our repast, and I was already deep in mine. He
scooped off the top of the shell, regarded it for a second and then rose
with the egg and went to the window.

"Since you have wings you had better fly," said he, and he threw it into
the street.

"My little Asticot," he added, resuming his seat. "I myself was once an
artist: now I am a philosopher: it is much better."

He cheerfully attacked his bread and butter. Whether it was a sense of
his goodness or my own greediness that prompted me I know not, but I
pushed my half eaten egg across to him and begged him to finish it. He
looked queerly at me for a moment.

"I accept it," said he, "in the spirit in which it is offered."

The great man solemnly ate my egg, and pride so filled my heart that I
could scarcely swallow. A smaller man than Paragot would have refused.

From what I gathered from conversations overheard whilst I was serving
members with tripe and alcohol, it appeared that my revered master was a
mysterious personage. About eight months before, he had entered the then
unprosperous Club for the first time as a guest of the founder and
proprietor, an old actor who was growing infirm. He talked vehemently.
The next night he took the presidential chair which he since occupied,
to the Club's greater glory. But whence he came, who and what he was, no
one seemed to know. One fat man whose air of portentous wisdom (and
insatiable appetite) caused me much annoyance, proclaimed him a Russian
Nihilist and asked me whether there were any bombs in his bedroom.
Another man declared that he had seen him leading a bear in the streets
of Warsaw. His manner offended me.

"Have you ever been to Warsaw, Mr. Ulysses?" asked the fat man. Mr.
Ulysses was the traditional title of the head of the Lotus Club.

"This gentleman says he saw you leading a bear there, Master," I piped,
wrathfully, in my shrill treble.

There was the sudden silence of consternation. All, some five and
twenty, laid down their knives and forks and looked at Paragot, who rose
from his seat. Throwing out his right hand he declaimed:

  [Greek: "Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, os mala polla
           plagchthê, epei Troiês Ieron ptoliethron epersen
           pollôn d' anthrôpôn iden astea, kai noon egnô.]

"Does anyone know what that is?"

A young fellow at the end of the table said it was the opening lines of
the Odyssey.

"You are right, sir," said Paragot, threading his fingers through his
long black hair. "They tell of my predecessor in office, the first
President of this Club, who was a man of many wanderings and many
sufferings and had seen many cities and knew the hearts of men. I,
gentlemen, have had my Odyssey, and I have been to Warsaw, and," with a
rapier flash of a glance at the gentleman who had accused him of leading
bears, "I know the miserable hearts of men." He rapped on the table with
his hammer. "Asticot, come here," he shouted.

I obeyed trembling.

"If ever you lift up your voice again in this assembly, I will have you
boiled and served up with onion sauce, second-hand tripe that you are,
and you shall be eaten underdone. Now go."

I felt shrivelled to the size of a pea. Beneath Paragot's grotesqueness
ran an unprecedented severity. I was conscious of the accusing glare of
every eye. In my blind bolt to the door I had the good fortune to run
headlong into a tray of drinks which Cherubino was carrying.

The disaster saved the situation. Laughter rang out loud and the talk
became general. The interlude was forgotten; but the man who said he had
seen my master leading bears in Warsaw vanished from the Club for ever
after.

The next morning when I entered Paragot's room to wake him I found him
reading in bed. He looked up from his book.

"My little Asticot," said he, "leading bears is better than calumny, but
indiscretion is worse than both."

And that is all I heard of the matter. I never lifted up my voice in the
Club again.

There was a curious black case on the top of a cupboard in his room
which for some time aroused my curiosity. It was like no box I had seen
before. But one afternoon Paragot took it down and extracted therefrom a
violin which after tuning he began to play. Now although fond of music I
have never been able to learn any instrument save the tambourine--my
highest success otherwise has been to finger out "God save the Queen"
and "We won't go home till morning" on the ocarina--and to this day a
person able to play the piano or the fiddle seems possessed of an
uncanny gift; but in that remote period of my fresh rescue from the
gutter, an executant appeared something superhuman. I stared at him with
stupid open mouth. He played what I afterwards learned was one of
Brahms's Hungarian dances. His lank figure and long hair worked in
unison with the music which filled the room with a wild tumult of
movement. I had not heard anything like it in my life. It set every
nerve of me dancing. I suppose Paragot found his interest in me because
I was such an impressionable youngster. When, at the abrupt finale, he
asked me what I thought of it, I could scarce stammer a word.

He gave me one of his queer kind looks while he tuned a string.

"I still wonder, my son, whether it would not be better for your soul
that you should go on scullioning to the end of time."

"Why, Master?" I asked.

"_Sacré mille diables_," he cried, "do you think I am going to give you
a reason for everything? You'll learn fast enough."

He laughed and went on playing, and, as I listened, the more godlike he
grew.

"The streets of Paris," said he, returning the fiddle to its case, "are
strewn with the wrecked souls of artists."

"And not London?"

"My little Asticot," he replied, "I am a Frenchman, and it is our
fondest illusion that no art can possibly exist out of Paris."

I discovered later that he was the son of a Gascon father and an Irish
mother, which accounted for his being absolutely bilingual and, indeed,
for many oddities of temperament. But now he proclaimed himself a
Frenchman, and for a time I was oppressed with a sense of
disappointment.

At the Board School I had bolted enough indigestible historical facts to
know that the English had always beaten the French, and I had drawn the
natural conclusion that the French were a vastly inferior race of
beings. It was, I verily believe, the first step in my spiritual
education to realise that the god of my idolatry suffered no diminution
of grandeur by reason of his nationality. Indeed he gained accession,
for after this he talked often to me of France in his magniloquent way,
until I began secretly to be ashamed of being English. This had one
advantage, in that I set myself with redoubled vigour to learn his
language.

So extraordinary was the veneration I had for the man who had
transplanted me from the kicks and soapsuds of my former life into this
bewildering land of Greek gods and Ariels and pictures and music; for
the man who spoke many unknown tongues, wore a gold watch chain, had
been to Warsaw and every city mentioned in my school geography, and
presided like a king over an assembly of those whom as a gutter urchin I
had been wont to designate "toffs"; for the beneficent being who had
provided me, Gus Smith alias Asticot, with a nightshirt, condescended to
eat half my egg and to allow me to supervise his bedchamber and maintain
it in an orderly state of disintegration, hair-brushes from butter and
tobacco-ash from fish; for the man who, God knows, was the first of
human creatures to awaken the emotion of love within my child's
breast--so extraordinary was the veneration I had for him, that although
I started out on this narrative by saying it was Paragot's story and not
my own I proposed to tell, I hope to be pardoned for a brief egotistical
excursion.

Like the gentleman in Chaucer, Paragot had over "his beddes hedde" a
shelf of books to which, careless creature that he was, he did not dream
of denying me access. In that attic in Tavistock Street I read Smollett
and Byron and somehow spelt through "Nana." I also found there the _De
Imitatione Christi_, which I read with much the same enjoyment as I did
the others. You must not think this priggish of me. The impressionable
child of starved imagination will read anything that is printed. In my
mother's house I used to purloin the squares of newspaper in which the
fried fish from Mr. Samuel's had been wrapped, and surreptitiously read
them. Why not Saint Thomas à Kempis?

I have in my possession now a filthy piece of paper, dropping to bits,
on which is copied, in my round Board School boy handwriting, the
eleventh chapter of the _De Imitatione_.

It runs:

"_My Son, thou hast still many things to learn, which thou hast not well
learned yet._"

"_What are they, Lord_?"

"_To place thy desire altogether in subjection to my good pleasure and
not to be a lover of thyself, but an earnest seeker of my will. Thy
desires often excite and urge thee forward: but consider with thyself
whether thou art not more moved for thine own objects than for my
honour. If it is myself that thou seekest thou shalt be well content
with whatsoever I shall ordain; but if any pursuit of thine own lieth
hidden within thee, behold it is this which hindreth and weigheth thee
down._

"_Beware, therefore, lest thou strive too earnestly after some desire
which thou hast conceived, without taking counsel of me: lest haply it
repent thee afterwards, and that displease thee which before pleased,
and for which thou didst long as for a great good. For not every
affection which seemeth good is to be forthwith followed: neither is
every opposite affection to be immediately avoided. Sometimes it is
expedient to use restraint even in good desires and wishes, lest through
importunity thou fall into distraction of mind, lest through want of
discipline thou become a stumbling-block to others, or lest by the
resistance of others thou be suddenly disturbed and brought to
confusion._

"_Sometimes indeed it is needful to use violence, and manfully to strive
against the sensual appetite, and not to consider what the flesh may or
not will; but rather to strive after this, that it may become subject,
however unwillingly, to the spirit. And for so long it ought to be
chastised and compelled to undergo slavery, even until it be ready for
all things; and learn to be contented with little, to be delighted with
things simple, and never to murmur at any inconvenience._"

Let no one be shocked. It was one of the great acts of devotion of my
life. I copied this out as a boy, not because it counselled me in my
duty towards God, but because it summed up my whole duty to Paragot.
Paragot was "Me." I saw the relation between Paragot and myself in every
line. Had not I often fallen into distraction of mind over my drawing
and books when I ought to have been helping Mrs. Housekeeper downstairs?
Was it not want of discipline that made me a stumbling-block that
memorable night in the Club? Ought I not to be content with everything
Paragot should ordain? And was it not my duty to murmur at no
inconvenience?

Years afterwards I showed this paper to Paragot. He wept. Alas! I had
not well chosen my opportunity.

I remember, the night after I copied the chapter, Cherubino and I helped
Paragot up the stairs and put him to bed. It was the first time I had
seen him the worse for liquor. But when one has been accustomed to see
one's mother and all her adult acquaintances dead drunk, the spectacle
of a god slightly overcome with wine is neither here nor there.



CHAPTER III


THERE was one merit (if merit it was) of my mother's establishment. No
skeletons lurked in cupboards. They flaunted their grimness all over the
place. Such letters as she received trailed about the kitchen, for all
who chose to read, until they were caught up to cleanse a frying-pan. As
she possessed no private papers their sanctity was never inculcated; and
I could have rummaged, had I so desired, in every drawer or box in the
house without fear of correction. When I took up my abode with Paragot,
he laid no embargo on any of his belongings. The attic, except for
sleeping purposes, was as much mine as his, and it did not occur to me
that anything it contained could not be at my disposal.

This must be my apologia for reading, in all innocence, but with much
enjoyment, some documents of a private nature which I discovered one
day, about a year after I had entered Paragot's service, stuffed by way
of keeping them together in an old woollen stocking. They have been put
into my possession now for the purpose of writing this narrative, so my
original offence having been purged, I need offer no apology for
referring to them. There was no sort of order in the bundle of
documents; you might as well look for the quality of humour in a
dromedary, or of mercy in a pianist, as that of method in Paragot. I
managed however to disentangle two main sets, one a series of love
letters and the other disconnected notes of travel. In both was I
mightily interested.

The love-letters, some of which were written in English and some in
French, were addressed to a beautiful lady named Joanna. I knew she was
beautiful because Paragot himself said so. "_Pure et ravissante comme
une aube d'avril_," "My dear dream of English loveliness," "the fair
flower of my life" and remarks such as these were proof positive. The
odd part of it was that they seemed not to have been posted. He wrote:
"not till my arms are again around you will your beloved eyes behold
these outpourings of my heart." The paper heading bore the word "Paris."
Allusions to a great artistic project on which he was working baffled my
young and ignorant curiosity. "I have Love, Youth, Genius, Beauty on my
side," he wrote, "and I shall conquer. We shall be irresistible. Fame
will attend my genius, homage your Beauty; we shall walk on roses and
dwell in the Palaces of the Earth." My heart thrilled when I read these
lines. _I knew_ that Paragot was a great man. Here, again, was proof. I
did not reflect that this vision splendid of earth's palaces had faded
into the twilight of the Tavistock Street garret. Thank heaven we have
had years of remembered life before we learned to reason.

I had many pictures of my hero in those strange letter days, so remote
to my childish mind. He crosses the Channel in December, just to skulk
for one dark night against the railings of the London Square where she
dwelt, in the hope of seeing her shadow on the blind. For some reason
which I could not comprehend, the lovers were forbidden to meet. It
rains, he sees nothing, but he returns to Paris with contentment in his
heart and a terrible cold in his head. But, "I have seen the doorstep,"
he writes, "_qu'effleurent tous les jours ces petits pieds si adorés_."

I hate your modern manner of wooing. A few weeks ago a young woman in
need of my elderly counsel showed me a letter from her betrothed. He had
been educated at Oxford University and possessed a motor-car, and yet he
addressed her as "old girl" and alluded to "the regular beanfeast" they
would have when they were married; and the damsel not only found nothing
wanting in the missive, but treasured it as if it had been an
impapyrated kiss. "_Joie de mon âme_," wrote Paragot, "I have seen the
doorstep which your little feet so adored touch lightly every day." I
like that better. But this is the opinion of the Asticot of a hundred
and fifty. The Asticot of fourteen could not contrast: for him sufficed
the Absolute of the romance of Paragot's love-making. Yet I did have a
standard of comparison--Ferdinand, whom till then I had regarded as the
Prince of Lovers. But he paled into the most prosaic young man before
the newly illuminated Paragot, and as for Miranda I sent her packing
from her throne in my heart and Joanna reigned in her stead. Little
idiot that I was, I set to dreaming of Joanna. You may not like the
name, but to me it held and still holds unspeakable music.

The other papers, as I have said, were records of travel, and I
instinctively recognized that they referred to subsequent Joanna-less
days. They were written on the backs of bills in outlandish languages,
leaves torn from greasy note-books, waste stuff exhaling exotic odours,
and odds and scraps of paper indescribable. In after years in Paris I
besought Paragot, almost on my knees, to write an account of the years
of vagabondage to which these papers refer. It would make, I told him, a
_picaresque_ romance compared with which that of Gil Bias de Santillane
were the tale of wanderings round a village pump. Such, said I, is given
to few men to produce. But Paragot only smiled, and sipped his absinthe.
It was against his principles, he said. The world would be a gentler
habitat if there had never been written or graven record of a human
action, and he refused to pander to the obscene curiosity of the
multitude as to the thoughts and doings of an entire stranger. Besides,
literary composition was beset with too many difficulties. One's method
of expression had always to be in evening dress which he abhorred, and
he could not abide the violet ink and pin-pointed pens supplied in cafés
and places where one writes. So the world has lost a new Odyssey.

The notes formed reading as disconnected as a dictionary. They were so
abrupt. Incidents were noted which stimulated my young imagination like
stinging-nettles; and then nothing more.

"As soon as Hedwige had taught me German, she grew sick and tired of me;
and when she wanted to marry an under-officer of cavalry with moustaches
reaching to the top of his _Pikelhaube_, who tried to run me through the
body when he saw such a scarecrow walking out with her, I left Cassel."

And that was all I learned with regard to Cassel, Hedwige, (save from
two other notes) or his learning the German tongue.

The following note is the only one he thought worth while to make of a
journey through Russia.

"Novotorshakaya is a beastly hole (_un trou infect_). The bugs are the
most companionable creatures in it, and they are the cleanest."

"At Prague," he scribbles on a sheet of paper stained with coffee-cup
rings, "I made the acquaintance of a polite burglar, who introduced me
to his lady wife, and to other courteous criminals, their spouses and
families. My slight knowledge of Czech, which I had by this time
acquired, enabled me to take vast pleasure in their society. Granted
their sociological premises, based on Proudhon, they are too logical.
The lack of imaginative power to break away from convention, _their
convention_, is a serious defect in their character. They take their
gospel of _tuum est meum_ too seriously. I do not inordinately
sympathise with people who get themselves hanged for a principle. And
that is what my friend Mysdrizin did. An old lady of Prague, obstinate
as the old sometimes are, on whom he called professionally, disputed his
theories; whereupon, instead of smiling with the indulgence of one who
knows the art of living, and letting her have her own way, he convinced
her with a life-preserver. His widow, like her predecessor of Ephesus,
desiring speedy consolation, I fled the city. My Epicureanism and her
iron-bound individualism would have clashed. I had played the Battle of
Prague _à quatre mains_ sufficiently in my tender childhood. I had no
wild yearning to recommence."

Here is another:

"Verona----"

There is no date. None of these jottings bear a date, and when I last
saw Paragot he had not the patience to arrange these far off memories.
Verona! To me the word recalls immemorable associations--vistas of
narrow old streets redolent of the Renaissance, echoing still with brawl
and clash of arms, and haunted by the general stock in trade of the
artist's historical fancy. But did Verona appeal to Paragot's romantic
sense? Not a bit of it.

"At Verona," runs the jotting, "I lodged with the cheeriest little
undertaker in the world, who had a capital low-class practice. His wife,
four children, and whoever happened to be the lodger, were all pressed
into the merry service. We sang _Funiculi funiculà_ as we drove in the
nails. When I make coffins again I shall sing that refrain. It has an
unisonal value that is positively captivating. Had it not been that a
diet of spaghetti and anæmic wine, a _tord-boyau_ (intestine-twister) of
unparalleled virulence undermined my constitution, and that the four
children, whose bedroom I shared, all took whooping-cough at once and
thus robbed me of sleep, I might have been coffin-making to the tune of
_Funiculi, Funiculà_ to the present day."

Here and there were jottings of figures. I know now they refer to
Paragot's tiny patrimony on which he--and I, in after years--subsisted.
It was so small that no wonder he worked now and then for a living wage.

I also see now, as of course I could not be expected to see then, that
Paragot, being a creature of extremes, would either have the highest or
the lowest. In these travel-sketches, as he cannot go to Grand Hotels, I
find him avoiding like lazar-houses the commercial or family hostelries
where he will foregather with the half-educated, the half-bred, the
half-souled; the offence of them is too rank for his spirit. The
pretending simian class, aping the vices of the rich and instinct with
the vices of the low, and frank in neither, moves the man's furious
scorn. He will have realities at any cost. All said and done, the bugs
of Novortovshakaya did not masquerade as hummingbirds, nor merry
Giuseppi Sacconi of Verona as a critic of Girolami dai Libri.

"I don't mind," he writes on a loose sheet, apropos of nothing, "the
frank dunghill outside a German peasant's kitchen window. It is a matter
of family pride. The higher it can be piled the greater his
consideration. But what I loathe and abominate is the dungheap hidden
beneath Hedwige's draper papa's parlour floor."

When I came to this in my wrongful search through Paragot's papers, I
felt greatly relieved. I thought Hedwige had seduced him from his
allegiance to Joanna, and that he was sorry she had married the sergeant
with moustaches reaching to his _Pikelhaube_, though what part of his
person his _Pikelhaube_ was, I could not for the life of me imagine. I
pictured Hedwige as a gigantic awe-compelling lady. The name somehow
conveyed the idea to me. It was peculiarly comforting to learn that she
was a horrid girl whose papa had a draper's shop over a dunghill. I no
longer bothered my head concerning her, for soon I came across a
reference to Joanna.

"I was lounging one day in the Puerta del Sol, that swarming central
parallelogram of Madrid, and musing on the possibilities of progress in
a nation which contents itself with ox-transport in the heart of its
capital, when a carriage drove past me in which I can almost still swear
I saw Joanna. It entered the Calle de San Hieronimo. I started in racing
pursuit and fell into the arms of a green-gloved soldier. To avoid
arrest as a madman or a murderer, for no sane man runs in Spain, I
leaped into a fiacre and gave such chase as tomorrow's victim of the
bull-ring would allow. We came up with the carriage on the Prado, just
in time to see the skirts of a lady vanish through the door of a house.
I dismissed my cab and waited. I waited two solid hours. That attracted
no attention. Everyone waits in Spain. To stand interminably at a
street corner is to take out a patent of respectability. But my
confounded heart beat wildly. I had an _agonized desire_ to see her
again. I addressed the liveried coachman in my best Spanish, taking off
my hat and bowing low.

"'Señor, will you have the great goodness to tell me who is that lady?'

"'Señor,' he replied with equal urbanity, 'it is not correct for
coachmen to give rapscallions information as to their employers.'

"'When your Señora bids the rapscallion sit beside her in the carriage
and orders you to drive, you will regret your insolence,' said I.

"I turned a haughty back on him; but I felt his lackey's eye fixed
disapprovingly on my rags.

"'I will hear the sound,' said I to myself, 'of her silvery English
voice, or I will die.'

"Then the door opened, and the beautiful lady entered the carriage; _and
it was not Joanna_.

"The gods were without bowels of compassion for me that day."

Another scrap contains the following:

"Thus have I come to the end of a five years' vagabondage. I started out
as a Pilgrim to the Inner Shrine of Truth which I have sought from St.
Petersburg to Lisbon, from Taormina to Christiania. I have lived in a
spiritual shadowland, dreaming elusive dreams, my better part stayed by
the fitful vision of things unseen. Such an exquisite wild-goose-chase
has never man undertaken before or since the dear Knight of La Mancha.
And now I come to think of it, I don't know what the deuce I have been
after, save that instead of pursuing I have all the time been running
away.

"In my next quest I must not proclaim my Dulcinea too loudly. When
Hedwige's little sister came to me with a doll into which Hedwige had
savagely run hatpins so that the stuffing came out, I consoled the
weeping infant with a new doll and the assurance that Hedwige was the
spitefullest cat as yet evolved from a feline sex. I had no notion at
the time of the reason for Hedwige's viciousness. But now I fancy she
must have acted according to mediæval superstition and used the doll as
Joanna's hated effigy. I remember that the next time I saw her I
criticised her straight Teutonic fringe and fanfaronaded on the
captivating frizziness of Joanna's hair. The wonder is that Hedwige did
not run hatpins into _me_. The murderer's widow of Prague was built of
sterner stuff; she cared not a hempen strand for Joanna, a pale
consumptive doxy, according to her picturing, who had jilted me for an
eminent swell-mobsman in London."

I spent many happy hours over these scraps, building up the fantastic
fairy tale of Paragot's antecedents, and should have gone on reading
them for an indefinite time had not Paragot one day discovered me. It
was then that I learned the sacrosanctity of private papers.

"I thought, my little Asticot," said he, bending his blue eyes on me, "I
thought you were a gentleman."

Only Paragot could have had so crazy a thought. I could not be a
gentleman, I reflected, till I had a gold watch-chain. However Paragot
expected me to be one without the seal and token of outward adornments,
and I promised faithfully to mould myself according to his
expectations.

"How much of this nightmare farrago have you read?"

"I know it all by heart, Master," said I.

He took off his old hat and threw it on the bed, and ran his fingers
through his hair perplexedly.

"My son," said he at last, "if you were just a common boy I should make
you go on your bended knees and lift up your hand and swear that you
would not reveal to a living soul the mysteries which these papers
contain, and then I should send you to dwell for ever among the
tripe-plates. But I see before me a gentleman, a scholar and an artist
and I will not submit him to such an indignity."

He put his hand on my head and looked at me in kind irony.

"I will never tell no one, Master," I promised.

"Anyone," he corrected.

"Anyone, Master," I repeated meekly.

"You will wipe it all out of your memory."

I was habitually truthful with Paragot, because he never gave me cause
to lie.

"I can't, Master," said I, thinking of my dreams of Joanna.

The seriousness of my tone amused him.

"What has made such an indelible impression on your mind?"

"I can't forget----" I blurted out, moved both by reluctance to yield
over my dreams of Joanna and by a desire to show off my familiarity with
French, "I can't forget about _ces petits pieds si adorés_."

The smile died from his face, which assumed a queer, scared expression.
He went to the window and stood there so long, that I, in my turn grew
scared. I realised dimly what I had done, and I could have bitten my
tongue out. I drew near him.

"Master," said I timidly.

He did not seem to hear; presently he picked up his hat from the bed and
walked out without taking any notice of me.

We did not refer to the papers again until long afterwards, and though
they lay unguarded as before in the old stocking, never till this
present day have I set my eyes on them.



CHAPTER IV


ONE May morning a year after my surprising of Paragot's secret, I awoke
later than usual, the three-and-sixpenny clock on the mantelpiece
marking eleven, and huddling on my clothes in alarm I left the foul
smelling Club room, and ran upstairs to arouse my master.

To my astonishment he was not alone. A stout florid man, wearing a white
waistcoat which bellied out like the sail of a racing yacht, a frock
coat and general resplendency of garb, stood planted in the middle of
the room, while Paragot still in nightshirt but trousered, sat swinging
his leg on a corner of the deal table. I noticed the fiddle which
Paragot had evidently been playing before his visitor's arrival, lying
on the disordered bed.

"Who the devil is this?" cried the fat man angrily.

"This is Mr. Asticot, my private secretary, who cooks my herrings and
attends to my correspondence. Usually he cooks two, but if you will join
us at breakfast Mr. Hogson----"

"Pogson," bawled the fat man.

"I beg your pardon," said my master sweetly. "If you will join us at
breakfast he will cook three."

"Damn your breakfast," said Mr. Pogson.

"Only two then, Asticot. This gentleman has already breakfasted. You
will forgive us for not treating you as a stranger."

Mr. Pogson, who was in a rage, thumped the table with his hand.

"I'll give you to understand Mr. Henkendyke, that I am the proprietor of
this club. I have bought it with my money, and I'm not going to see it
go to eternal glory as it's doing under your management. I'm not like
that old ass Ballantyne. I'm a business man and I'm going to run this
club for a profit, and if you continue to be manager you'll jolly well
have to turn over a new leaf."

"My good friend," said my master, rising and thrusting his hands in his
pockets, "you have told me that about ten times; it is getting
monotonous."

"The way this place is run," continued Mr. Pogson, unheeding, "is
scandalous. Not a blessed account kept. No check on provisions or drink.
Every night your servants are drunk."

"As owls," said Paragot.

"And what the dickens do you do?"

"I give the Lotus Club the prestige of my presidency. I accept a salary
and this presidential residence as my remuneration. You do not expect a
man like me to keep ledgers and check butcher's bills like a
twopennyhalfpenny clerk in the City. It is you, my dear Mr. Pogson, who
have curious ideas of club management. You should put this sort of thing
into the hands of some arithmetical hireling. I--" he waved his long
fingers tipped with their long nails, magnificently--"am the
picturesque, the intellectual, the spiritual guide of the club."

"You are a ---- fraud," cried Mr. Pogson, using so dreadful an adjective
that I dropped the gridiron. Paragot had trained me to a distaste of
foul language. "You are a drunken incompetent thief."

Paragot took his guest's glossy silk hat and gold mounted cane from the
table and put them into his hands. He pointed to the door.

"Get out--quickly," said he.

He turned on his heel and sitting on the bed began to play the fiddle.
Mr. Pogson instead of getting out stood in front of him quivering like
an infuriated jelly, and informed him that it was his blooming club and
his blooming room, that he would choose the moment of exit most
convenient to his own blooming self; also that Paragot's speedy exit was
a matter for his decision. In a dancing fury he heaped abuse on Paragot
who played "The Last Rose of Summer," with rather more tremolo than
usual. Even I saw that he was dangerous. Mr. Pogson did not heed.
Suddenly Paragot sprang to his feet towering over the fat man and swung
his fiddle on high like Thor's hammer. With a splitting crash it came
down on Mr. Pogson's head. Then Paragot gripped him and running with him
to the door, shot him down the stairs.

"That, my little Asticot," said he, "is the present proprietor of the
Lotus Club, and this is the late manager."

I ran to the door for the purpose of locking it. Paragot smiled.

"He will not come back. When he has mended what Fluellen calls his
'ploody coxcomb,' he will take out a summons against me for assault."

He threw himself on the bed, while I, in trembling bewilderment,
prepared the breakfast. Presently he broke into a loud laugh.

"The fool! The mammonite fool, Asticot! Does he think that Mr.
Ulysses-es are picked up by the hundred among the smug young men of the
Polytechnic who add up figures, and keep books by double entry? Do you
know what double entry is?"

"No, Master," said I from my squatting seat on the floor by the gas
stove.

"Thank the gods for your ignorance. It is a nescience whereby human
aspirations are cribbed within ruled lines and made to balance on the
opposite side. Would you like to see me obey Mr. Mammon's behest and
crib my aspirations within ruled lines?"

"No, Master," said I.

"The gods have given you understanding," said he, "which is better than
book-keeping by double entry."

At the time I thought my master's attitude magnificent and I despised
Mr. Pogson from the bottom of my heart. But since then I have wondered
how the deuce the Lotus Club survived a month of Paragot's management.
In after years when I questioned him, he said airily that he left all
financial questions to Ballantyne, the old actor proprietor, who had
grown infirm, and that he was president and not manager. Yet to my
certain knowledge he paid wages to Mrs. Housekeeper, Cherubino and
myself, and as for tradesmen's bills they were strewn about Paragot's
bedchamber like the autumn leaves of Vallombrosa, in greater numbers
than the articles of his attire. On the other hand, I have no
recollection of moneys coming in. There must have been some loose
unbusinesslike arrangement between Ballantyne and himself which most
justifiably shocked the business instincts of Mr. Pogson. There I
sympathise with the latter. But I must admit that he showed a want of
tact in dealing with Paragot.

My master was in gay spirits during breakfast. When he had finished, he
declared the meal to be the most enjoyable he had eaten in Tavistock
Street. My insensate conceit regarded the statement as a tribute to my
culinary skill and I glowed with pride. I informed him that my herring
cookery was nothing to what I could do with sprats.

"My little Asticot," said he, filling his porcelain pipe, "I have to
offer you my joint congratulation and commiseration. I congratulate you
on your being no longer a scullion. I commiserate with you on the loss
of your salary of eighteen pence a week. Your sensitive spirit would
revolt against taking service under anyone of Mr. Mammon's myrmidons,
and even if it didn't, I am sure he would not employ you. Like Caliban
no longer will you 'scrape trencher nor wash dish'--at least in the
Lotus Club--for from this hour I dismiss you from its service."

He smoked silently in his wicker chair, giving me time to realise the
sudden change in my fortunes. Then only did I understand. I saw myself
for a desolate moment, cast motherless, rudderless on the wide world
where art and scholarship met with contumely and undergrown youth was
buffeted and despised. My gorgeous dreams were at an end. The blighting
commonplace overspread my soul.

"What would you like to do, my little Asticot?" he asked.

I pulled myself together and looked at him heroically.

"I could be a butcher's boy."

The corners of my mouth twitched. It was a shuddersome avocation, and
the prospect of the companionship of other butcher boys who could not
draw, did not know French, and had never heard of Joanna filled me with
a horrible sense of doom.

Suddenly Paragot leaped up in his wild way to his feet and clapped me so
heartily on the shoulder that I staggered.

"My son," cried he, "I have an inspiration. It is spring, and the
hedgerows are greener than the pavement, and the high roads of Europe
are wider than Tavistock Street. We will seek them to-day, Asticot _de
mon coeur_; I'll be Don Quixote and you'll be my Sancho, and we'll go
again in quest of adventures." He laughed aloud, and shook me like a
little rat. "_Cela te tape dans l'oeil, mon petit Asticot?_"

Without waiting for me to reply, he rushed to the ricketty washstand,
poured out water from the broken ewer, and after washing, began to dress
in feverish haste, talking all the time. Used as I was to his suddenness
my wits could not move fast enough to follow him.

"Then I needn't be a butcher's boy?" I said at last.

He paused in the act of drawing on a boot.

"Butcher's boy? Do you want to be a butcher's boy?"

"No, Master," said I fervently.

"Then what are you talking of?" He had evidently not heard my answer to
his question. "I am going to educate you in the High School of the
Earth, the University of the Universe, and to-morrow you shall see a cow
and a dandelion. And before then you will be disastrously seasick."

"The sea!" I cried in delirious amazement. "We are going on the sea?
Where are we going?"

"To France, _petit imbécile_," he cried. "Why are you not getting ready
to go there?"

I might have answered that I had no personal preparations to make; but
feeling rebuked for idleness while he was so busy, I began to clear away
the breakfast things. He stopped me.

"_Nom de Dieu_, we are not going to travel with cups and saucers!"

He dragged from the top of the cupboard an incredibly dirty carpet bag
of huge dimensions and decayed antiquity, and bade me pack therein our
belongings. The process was not a lengthy one; we had so few. When we
had little more than half filled the bag with articles of attire and the
toilette stuffed in pell-mell, we looked around for ballast.

"The books, Master," said I.

"We will take the immortal works of Maître François Rabelais, and the
dirty little edition of 'David Copperfield.' The remainder of the
library we will sell in Holywell Street."

"And the violin?"

He picked up the maimed instrument and, after looking at it critically,
threw it into a corner.

"For Pogson," said he.

When we had tied up the books with a piece of stout string
providentially lying at the bottom of the cupboard, our preparations
were complete. Paragot donned his cap and a storm-stained Inverness
cape, grasped the carpet bag and looked round the room.

"_En route_," said he, and I followed with the books. We gained the
street and left the Lotus Club behind us for ever.

What Mrs. Housekeeper said, what Cherubino said, what the members said
when they found no Mr. Ulysses presiding at the supper table that
evening, what Mr. Pogson said when he learned that his assailant had
shaken the dust of the Lotus Club from off his feet and strolled into
the wide world without giving him the opportunity of serving a summons
for assault, I have never been able to discover. Nor have I learned who
succeeded Paragot as president and occupied the palatial chamber of all
the harmonies that was Paragot's squalid attic. When, in after years, I
returned to London the Lotus Club had passed from human memory, and at
the present day a perky set of office premises stands on its site. The
morality of Paragot's precipitate exodus I am not in a position to
discuss. From his point of view the fact of having disliked the new
proprietor from their first interview, and broken a fiddle over his
head, rendered his position as president untenable. Paragot walked out.

After having sold the books for a few shillings in Holywell Street, we
marched up Fleet Street into the City, and entered a stupendous,
unimagined building which Paragot informed me was his bank. Elegant
gentlemen behind the counter shovelled gold to and fro with the same
casual indifference as I had seen grocers' assistants shovel tea. One of
them, a gorgeous fellow wearing a white piqué tie and a horse-shoe pin,
paid such deference to Paragot that I went out prodigiously impressed by
my master's importance. I was convinced that he owned the establishment,
and during the next quarter of an hour I could not speak to him for awe.

It was about two o'clock when we reached Victoria Station. There Paragot
discovered, for the first time, that there was not a train till nine in
the evening. It had not occurred to him that trains did not start for
Paris at quarter of an hour intervals during the day.

"My son," said he, "now is the time to make practical use of our
philosophy. Instead of heaping vain maledictions on the Railway Company,
let us deposit our luggage in the cloak room and take a walk on the
Thames Embankment."

We walked thither and sat on a vacant bench beside the Cleopatra's
Needle. It was a warm May afternoon. My young mind and body fired by the
excitements of the day found rest in the sunny idleness. It was
delicious to be here, instead of washing up plates and dishes with Mrs.
Housekeeper. Paragot took off his old slouch hat, stretched himself
easefully and sighed.

"I am anxious to get to Paris to consult Henri Quatre."

"Who is Henri Quatre, Master?" I asked.

"Henri Quatre is on the Pont Neuf. That is a French saying which means
that Queen Anne is dead. He was a great King of France and his statue on
horseback is in the middle of a great bridge across the Seine called the
Pont Neuf. He is a great friend of mine. I will tell you a story. Once
upon a time there lived in Paris a magnificent young man who thought
himself a genius. He _was_ a genius, my little Asticot. A genius is a
man who writes immortal books, paints immortal pictures, rears immortal
buildings and commits immortal follies. Don't be a genius, my son, it
isn't good for anybody. Well, this young man was clad in purple and fine
linen and fared sumptuously every day. He also had valuable furniture.
One evening something happened to annoy him."

Paragot paused.

"What annoyed him?" I asked.

"A flaw in what he had conceived to be the scheme of the universe,"
replied my master. "It annoys many people. The young man being annoyed,
cast the fruits of his genius into the fire, tore up his purple and fine
linen and smashed his furniture with a Crusader's mace which happened to
be hanging by way of an ornament on the wall. It's made of steel with a
knob full of spikes, and weighs about nine pounds. I know nothing like
it for destroying a Louis Quinze table, or for knocking the works out of
a clock. If you're good, my son, you shall have one when you grow up."

I looked gratefully at him. Not content with his kindness to me then, he
would be my benefactor still when I reached manhood.

"The young man then packed a valise full of necessaries and went out
into the street. It was a rainy November evening. He walked along the
quays through the lamp-lit drizzle till he came to the statue of Henri
Quatre. The Pont Neuf was alive with traffic and the swiftly passing
lights of vehicles threw conflicting gleams over the wet statue. The
gas-lamps flickered in the wind." Paragot flickered his long fingers
dramatically, to illustrate the gas-lamps. "On all sides rose vague
masses of building--the Louvre away beyond the bridge, the frowning mass
of the Conciergerie--the towering turrets of Notre Dame--swelling like
billows against the sky. Pale reflections came from the river. Do you
see the picture, my little Asticot? And the young man clutched the
railings that surround the plinth of the statue, and caught sight of the
face of Henri Quatre, and Henri Quatre looked at him so kindly that he
said: '_Mon bon roi_, you are of the South like myself: I am leaving
Paris to go into the wide world, but I don't know where in the wide
world to go to.' _And the King nodded his head and pointed to the Gare
de Lyon._ And the young man took off his hat and said, '_Mon bon roi_, I
thank you!' He went to the Gare de Lyon and found a train just starting
for Italy. So he went to Italy. I have a great respect for Henri
Quatre."

"And what happened to him then, Master?" I asked, after a breathless
pause.

"He became a vagabond philosopher," replied Paragot, refilling his
porcelain pipe.

No argument has ever been able to convince Paragot that the statue did
not nod its head and point the way to Italy. For some years I myself
believed it; but at last it became obvious that the flashing gleams of
light over the wet statue had made him the victim of a trick of the
eyes. I think the only serious offence I ever gave Paragot was when I
presented to him this solution of the mystery.

Varied discourse and a meal in a Strand eating-house filled up the hours
till nine o'clock. And then I started for Wonderland with Paragot.

       *       *       *       *       *

We stayed in Paris but two days. When I asked my master why our sojourn
was not longer, he said something about the "bitter-sweet" of it, which
I could not understand. I have only two clear memories of Paris. He took
me to see Henri Quatre, and explained how the statue nodded and how the
hand which held the reins lifted and pointed to the Gare de Lyon. What
more conclusive proof of his veracity need I have than actual
confrontation with Henri Quatre? The other scene fixed on my mind is a
narrow dark street with tall houses on either side; an awning outside a
humble café; a little table beneath it at which Paragot and myself were
seated. I sipped luxuriously a celestial liquor which I have since
learned was grenadine syrup and water; in front of Paragot was a curious
opalescent milky fluid of which he drank great quantities during those
two days and ever afterwards.

"The time has come," said he, rolling his eyes at me with an awful
solemnity and speaking in a thick voice, "the time has come to talk of
affairs. First let me impress on you that Henkendyke is an appellation
offensive to French ears. Henceforward my name is Pradel--Polydore
Pradel. And as it is necessary for you to have an _état civil_, I hereby
adopt you as my son. Your name is therefore Asticot Pradel. I hope you
like it. You have never known what it is to have a father. Now the
possession of a father is a privilege to which every human being has a
right. I, Polydore Pradel, confer on you that privilege. My son--"

He raised his glass, clinked it against mine and pledged me.

"Henceforward," said Paragot, "what is good enough for me will I hope
not be good enough for you, and what is too bad for me shall never be
your portion. I swear it by the devil that dwells in this entrancing but
execrated form of alcohol."

He finished his drink and called for another. As soon as the absinthe
had curdled with the dropping water, he filled up the glass and drank it
off. Then he sat for a long time in bemused silence, while I, perched on
my chair, reflected on his great goodness and wondered how I should help
him up the darksome stairs of our hotel without the aid of Cherubino.

The next day we started on our pilgrimage. Why we went in one direction
more than another, why we went to one place rather than to another,
neither he nor I could tell. I never questioned. Sometimes we wandered
for days on foot, sleeping in village inns or farm-houses--occasionally
under a hedge when the nights were warm. Sometimes we spent two or three
days in an old world town, and Paragot would show me cathedrals and
churches and lecture me on the history of the place, and set me to
sketch bits of the picturesque that took his fancy. In the cool,
exquisite cloister of the Chateau of Jacques Coeur at Bourges I
learned more of the history of Charles VII than any English boy of my
generation. In the Chateau of Blois, the salamanders of François
Premier, the statue of Diane de Poictiers, the poison cabinet of
Catherine de Medici, the dungeons of the Cardinal de Lorraine, became
living testimonies of the past under Paragot's imaginative teaching. He
had set his heart on educating me; suddenly as the original impulse had
seized him, yet it lasted strong and became the object of his disordered
and otherwise aimless life. Books we always had in plenty. Tattered
classics are cheap enough in France, and what mattered it if pages were
missing? When done with we threw them away. We might have been tracked
through the country, like the hares in a paper chase, by the trail of
literature we left behind us.

In spite of his unmethodical temperament Paragot made one fixed rule for
my habits. In towns and larger villages, I went to bed at nine o'clock.
What he did with himself by way of amusement in the evenings I never
knew. Nor did it occur to me to conjecture. Healthily tired after a
happy day I was only too glad to crawl to whatever queer resting place
chance provided, and to sleep the sound sleep of boyhood. To be for ever
moving amid a fairyland of novelty, to have no care for the morrow, to
have no tasks save those that were a delight, to be under the protecting
guidance of a godlike being whose very reproofs were couched in terms of
humorous kindness, to eat strange unexpected things, to fraternise in a
new tongue, which daily grew more familiar, with any urchin on the
high-road or city byway, to pass wondering days among country sights
and country sounds--to be in short the perfect vagabond, could boy dream
of a more glorious life?

Now and again a whimsy seized my master and he declared that we must
work and earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brows. At a farm near
Chartres we hired ourselves out to an elderly couple, Monsieur and
Madame Dubosc, and spent toilsome but healthy days carting manure.
Although Paragot wrought miracles with his pitchfork, I don't think
Monsieur Dubosc took him seriously. Peasant shrewdness penetrated to the
gentleman beneath Paragot's blouse, and peasant ignorance attributed to
him the riches which he did not possess. They became great friends,
however, and before we left he succeeded in establishing himself as a
kind of oracle by curing a pig of some mysterious disease by means of a
remedy which he said he had learned in Dalmatia. Old Madame Dubosc shed
tears when we left La Haye.

Sometimes Paragot grew tired of tramping, and we travelled by rail, in
the wooden third class compartments of omnibus trains that stopped at
every station. Now and then pure chance took us to any particular town.
It was at Nancy that Paragot went to the ticket office and said with the
utmost politeness:--

"Monsieur, will you have the kindness to give me a ticket?"

"To what destination?" asked the clerk peering through his pigeon hole.

"_Parbleu_," said Paragot, "to any destination you like provided it is
not too expensive."

The clerk called him a _farceur_ and would have nothing to do with him,
but Paragot protested.

"Pardon, Monsieur, I have but one wish, to get away from Nancy. I have
seen the Episcopal Palace on the Place Stanislas, the Cathedral, and I
have viewed but I have not read the seventy-five thousand volumes in the
University Library. You know the places one gets to from Nancy, which I
do not. I am a stranger, in your hands. If you could suggest to me a
town about 100 kilometres distant----"

"There is Longwy," said the haughty official.

"Then have the kindness to give me two third class tickets to Longwy,"
said Paragot.

And to Longwy we went. Paragot contemplated the lack of interest in the
smug little town.

"To hold out Longwy as a goal to the enthusiastic Pilgrim to the Shrine
of Truth," said he, "could only enter the timber-built mind of a French
railway official."

The record of our wanderings would mark the stages of my own
development, but would be of little count as a history of Paragot. We
tramped and trained south through Italy and spent the winter in Rome.
Then it entered his head to obtain employment for both of us, as workman
and boy, on the excavations of the Forum. We lived in the slums with our
brother excavators, and were completely happy. So happy that though we
wandered the next year over France and part of Germany the winter again
found us working in Rome. In the following Spring we set our faces
northward, and in July Destiny overtook us in Savoy.



CHAPTER V


IT was the late afternoon of a sweltering July day. The near hills
slumbered in the sunshine. Far away beyond them grey peaks of Alpine
spurs, patched with snow, rose in faint outline against the sky. The
valley lay in rich idleness, green and gold and fruitful, yielding
itself with a maternal largeness to the white fifteenth century château
on the hillside. A long white road stretched away to the left following
the convolutions of the valley, until it became a thread; on the right
it turned sharply by a clump of trees which marked a farm. In the middle
of it all, in the grateful shadow cast by a wayside café, sat Paragot
and myself, watching with thirsty eyes the buxom but slatternly
_patronne_ pour out beer from a bottle. A dirty, long-haired mongrel
terrier lapped water from an earthenware bowl, at the foot of the wooden
table at which we sat. This was Narcisse, a recent member of our
vagabond family, whom my master had casually adopted some weeks before
and had christened according to some _lucus a non lucendo_ principle of
his own. I think he was the least beautiful dog I have ever met; but I
loved him dearly.

Paragot drained his tumbler, handed it back to be refilled, drained it
again and cleared his throat with the contentment of a man whose thirst
has been slaked.

"Now one can spit," he exclaimed heartily.

"That is always a comfort to a man," remarked the _patronne_.

"It is the potentiality that is the comfort. Have you apartments for the
night, Madame?"

"They are for _des messieurs_--for gentlemen," said the patronne
diffidently.

Narcisse having also finished his draught stretched himself out on the
ground, his chin on his fore paws, and glanced furtively upwards at the
disparaging lady.

"_Tron de l'air!_" cried Paragot, "are we not gentlemen?"

"_Tiens_, you are of the Midi," cried the woman, recognising the
expletive--for no one born north of Avignon says "_Tron de l'air_"--"I
too am from Marseilles. My husband was a Savoyard. That is why I am
here."

"I am a gentleman of Gascony," said my master, "and this is my son
Asticot."

"It is a droll name," said the _patronne_.

"We are commercial travellers on our rounds with samples of philosophy."

"It is a droll trade," said the _patronne_.

We were greasy and dirty, sunburnt to the colour of Egyptian felaheen
and dressed in the peasant's blue blouse. Creatures more unlike
professors of philosophy could not be conceived. But the _patronne_
seemed to be impressed--as who was not?--by Paragot.

"The rooms will be three francs, Monsieur," she said after a calculating
pause.

"I engage them," said my master. "Asticot, aid Madame to take our
luggage up to our bedchambers." I grasped my bundle and handed Paragot's
dilapidated canvas gripsack to the _patronne_. He arrested her.

"One moment, Madame. As you see, my portmanteau contains a shirt, a
pair of socks, a comb and a toothbrush. Also a copy of the works of the
divine vagrant Maître François Villon, which I will take out at once. He
was a thief and a reprobate and got nearer hanged than any man who ever
lived, and he is the dearest friend I have."

"You have droll friends," remarked the _patronne_ continuing her litany.

"And to think that he died four hundred years ago," sighed my master.
"Isn't it strange, Madame, that all the bravest men and most beautiful
women are those that are dead?"

The landlady laughed. "You talk like a true Gascon, Monsieur. In this
country people are so silent that one loses the use of one's tongue."

I departed with her to see after domestic arrangements and when I
returned I found Paragot smoking his porcelain pipe, and talking to a
dusty child in charge of a goat. Having, at that period, a soul above
dusty children in charge of goats. I sprawled on the ground beside
Narcisse, and being tired by the day's tramp fell into a doze. The good
earth, when you have a casing of it already on clothes and person, is a
comfortable couch; but I think you must be in your teens to enjoy it.

I awoke to the sound of Paragot's voice talking to Narcisse. The goat
child had slipped away. An ox cart laden with hay lumbered past. The
mellowness of late afternoon lay over the land. The shadow cast by the
little white café had deepened gradually far beyond the table. From
within the house came the faint clatter of footsteps and cooking
utensils. Paragot was still smoking. Narcisse sat on his haunches, his
ill shaped head to one side and his ears cocked. After making a vicious
dig at a flea, he yawned and trotted about after the manner of his kind
in search of adventure. Paragot summoned him back.

"My good Narcisse, every spot on the earth has its essential quality
which the wise man or dog knows how to enjoy in its entirety. In great
cities where life is pulsating around you, you are alert for the
unexpected. The underlying principle of a world's backwater like this is
restful stagnation. Here you must wallow in the uneventful. In vain you
sniff around in quest of the exciting, mistaking like your fellow in the
fable the shadow for the substance. The substance here is rest. Here
nothing ever happens."

"Pardon, Monsieur," said a voice close upon us. "Is it very far to
Chambéry?"

"It does not matter," said a second voice following hard on the first,
"for I can go no further."

I jumped to my feet and my master started round in his chair. The first
speaker was a girl, the second an old man. She had merely the comeliness
of tanned and hair-bleached peasant youth; he was wizened, lined,
browned and bent. A cotton umbrella shaded the girl's bare head and she
carried in her hand a cane valise covered with grey canvas. The old man
was burdened with two ancient shabby cases, one evidently containing a
violin and the other some queerly shaped musical instrument. Both the
new comers were wayworn and dirty, and my master seeing suffering on the
old man's face rose and courteously offered him a chair.

"Sit down and rest," said he, "and Mademoiselle, you are thinking of
going to Chambéry? But it is nearly a day's journey on foot."

"We have to play at a wedding tomorrow, Monsieur," said the girl
piteously. "It was arranged two months ago, and we must get there in
some manner."

"There is a railway station not far off," said I.

"Alas! we have only ten sous in the world, which is not enough to pay
for our tickets," she answered. "Imagine, Monsieur, I had a piece of
twenty francs in my pocket this morning, and I went to the station to
get a ticket, for I had counted on going by railway, as my grandfather
is so ill, and when I came to pay, I found I had lost my louis. How, the
_bon Dieu_ only knows. It is desolating, Monsieur; we had to walk so as
to keep our engagement at Chambéry. If we miss it, _nous sommes dans la
purée pour tout de bon_."

To be in the _purée_ is to be in a very bad mess indeed. The prospect of
abject pennilessness filled the damsel's eyes with woe.

"You earn your living by playing at weddings for folks to dance?" asked
my master.

"Yes, Monsieur. My grandfather plays the violin and I the zither--we
also go to fairs. In the winter we play at cafés in large towns. Life is
hard, Monsieur, is it not?"

She closed her umbrella and laid it on the valise. The old man sat by
the table, his head resting on his hands, saying nothing.

"When I think of my good louis that is gone!" she added tragically.

The only feature making for charm in a coarse homely face was a set of
white even teeth. I found her singularly unattractive. A tear rolled
down her cheek and its course was that of a rill in a dusty plain.

"Suppose I lend you the money for the railway tickets?" said my master
kindly.

"O Monsieur," she cried, "I should thank you from the depths of my
heart. _Grandpère_," she turned to the old man who, ashen faced, was
staring in front of him, "Monsieur will lend us enough money to get to
Chambéry."

"I can go no further," he murmured.

Then his eyelids quivered, his body moved spasmodically, and he swayed
sideways off the chair on to the ground.

We rushed to aid him. The girl put his head on her lap. My master bade
me run into the café for brandy. When I returned the old man was dead.

Narcisse sat placidly by, with his tongue out, eyeing his master
ironically.

"You are the man," his glance implied, "who said that nothing happens
here."

I have known many dogs in my life, but never so mocking and cynical a
dog as Narcisse.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly midnight before my master and I sat down again outside the
café. The intervening hours had been spent in journeying to and from the
nearest village, and obtaining the necessary services of doctor and
curé. My master was smoking his porcelain pipe, as usual, but strangely
silent. A faint circle of light came from the open ground-floor window
of the café. The white road gleamed dimly, and beyond the hushed valley
the hills loomed vague against a black, starlit sky. In the lighted room
a few peasants from neighbouring farms drank their sour white wine and
discussed the death in low voices. In other circumstances my master
would have joined them under pretext of getting nearer the Heart of
Life, and would have told them amazing tales of Ekaterinoslav or
Valladolid till they reeled home drunk with wine and wonder. And I
should have been abed. But to-night Paragot seemed to prefer the silent
company of Narcisse and myself.

"What do you think of it all, Asticot?" he asked at length.

"Of what, master?"

"Death."

"It frightens me," was all I could answer.

"What I resent about it," said my master reflectively, "is that one is
not able to have any personal concern in the most interesting event in
one's career. If you could even follow your own funeral and have a
chance of weeping for yourself! You are never so important as when you
are a corpse--and you miss it all. I have a good mind not to die. It is
either the silliest or the wisest action of one's life; I wonder which."

Presently the girl came down the passage of the café, stood for a moment
in the doorway, and seeing Paragot advanced to the table.

"You are very kind, Monsieur," she said, "and for what you have done I
thank you from my heart."

"It was very little," said my master. "Asticot, why do you not give
Mademoiselle your chair? Your manners are worse than those of Narcisse.
Mademoiselle, do me the pleasure of being seated."

She sat down, her feet apart, peasant fashion, her hands in her lap.

"If I had not lost the twenty francs he would not have died," she said
dejectedly.

"He would have died if you had brought him here in a carriage. He had
aneurism of the heart, the doctor says. He might have died any moment
the last ten years. How old was he?"

"Seventy, eighty, ninety--how should I know?"

"But he was your grandfather."

"Ah, no, indeed, Monsieur," she replied in a more animated manner. "He
was not a relative. My mother was poor and she sold me to him three
years ago."

"Why that is like me, Master!" I cried, vastly interested.

"My son," said he in English, "that is one of the things that must be
forgotten. And then, Mademoiselle?" he asked in French.

"Then he taught me to play the zither and to dance. I am sorry he is
dead. _Dame, oui, par exemple!_ But I do not weep for him as for a
grandfather. Oh, no!"

"And your mother?"

"She died last year. So I am all alone."

He asked her what she thought of doing for her livelihood. She shrugged
her shoulders with the resignation of her class.

"I can always earn my living. There are brasseries, cafés-concerts in
all the towns--I am fairly well known. They will give me an engagement.
_Il faut passer par là comme les autres._"

"You must go through it like the others?" repeated my master. "But you
are very young, my poor child."

"I am eighteen, Monsieur, I know I shall not make a fortune. I am not
pretty enough even when I paint, and my figure is heavy. That is what
Père Paragot used to complain of."

"What was his name?" asked my master, pricking up his ears.

"Berzélius Paragot--and he took the name of Nibbidard, which means 'no
luck'--so he loved to call himself Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot."

"Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot," mouthed my master joyously. "I would give
anything for a name like that!"

"It is yours if you like to take it," she said quite seriously. "No one
will want it any more."

"Little Asticot of my heart," said he, "what do you think of it?"

It struck me as a most aristocratically romantic appellation. I was used
to his aliases by this time. He had long ceased to call himself
"Pradel," and what was our surname for the moment I am now unable to
recollect.

"You look like 'Paragot,' Master," said I, and, in an inexplicable way,
he did--as I have before remarked. He called me a psychometrical genius
and enquired the name of the young lady.

"Amélie Duprat, Monsieur," she said. "But _pour le métier_--we must have
professional names for the cafés--Père Paragot called me 'Blanquette de
Veau.'"

"Delicious!" cried he.

"So everyone calls me Blanquette," she explained gravely. There was a
silence. Paragot--he really assumed the name from this moment--refilled
his pipe. The belated peasants, having finished their wine, clattered
out of the café, and took off their hats as they passed us.

"Life is very hard, is it not, Messieurs?" remarked Blanquette. It
seemed to be her favourite philosophic proposition. She sighed. "If Père
Paragot had only lived to play at the wedding tomorrow!"

"What then?"

"I should have had ten francs."

"Ah!" said my master.

"First I lose my louis, and now I lose my ten francs! ah! _Sainte Vierge
de Miséricorde!_"

It was heart-rending. Sometimes they received more than the stipulated
fee at these village weddings. They passed the hat round. If the guests
were mellow with good wine, which makes folks generous, they often
earned double the amount. And they always had as much as they liked to
eat, and could take away scraps in a handkerchief.

"And good wholesome nourishment, Monsieur. Once it was half a goose."

And now there was nothing, nothing. Blanquette did not believe in the
_bon Dieu_ any longer. She buried her face in her arms and wept. Paragot
smoked helplessly for a few moments. I, unused to women's tears, felt
the desolation of the race of Blanquette de Veau overspread me. But that
I considered it to be beneath my dignity as a man, I should have wept
too.

Suddenly Paragot brought his fist down on the table and started to his
feet. Blanquette lifted a scared wet face, dimly seen in the half light.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" cried he, "If you hold so much to your ten francs
and half a goose, I myself will come with you to Chambéry tomorrow and
fiddle at the wedding."

"You, Monsieur?" she gasped.

"Yes, I. Why not? Do you think I can't scrape catgut as well as Père
Paragot?"

He walked to and fro declaring his musical powers in his boastful way.
If he chose he could rip out the hearts of a dead Municipal Council
with a violin, and could set a hospital for paralytics a-dancing. He
would have fiddled the children of Hamelin away from the Pied Piper.
Didn't Blanquette believe him?

"But yes, Monsieur," she said fervently.

"Ask Asticot."

My faith in him was absolute. To my mind he had even understated his
abilities. The experience of the disillusioning years has since caused
me to modify my opinions; but Paragot's boastfulness has not lessened
him in my eyes. And this leads to a curious reflection. When a Gascon
boasts, you love him for it; when a Prussian does it, your toes tingle
to kick him to Berlin. His very whimsical braggadocio made Paragot
adorable, and I am at a loss to think what he would have been without
it.

"Of course," said he, "if you are proud, if you don't want to be seen in
the company of a scarecrow like me, there is nothing more to be said."

Blanquette humbly repudiated the charge of pride. Her soul was set on
her ten francs and she didn't care how she got them. She accepted
Monsieur's generous offer out of a full heart.

"That's sense," said my master. "We shall rehearse at daybreak."



CHAPTER VI


DAWN found us all in a field some distance from the café--Paragot,
Blanquette, Narcisse, the zither, the fiddle and I, and while the two
musicians rehearsed the jingly waltzes and polkas that made up the old
man's répertoire, I tried to explain the situation to Narcisse who sat
with his ears cocked wondering what the deuce all the noise was about.

"Ah, Monsieur," said Blanquette, during a pause, "you play like a great
artist."

"Didn't I tell you so?" he cried triumphantly.

"You must have studied much."

"Prodigiously," said he.

"Père Paragot had played the violin for sixty years, but he could not
make it sing like that."

"You would not compare Père Paragot with my master?" I exclaimed by way
of rebuke.

Blanquette acquiesced humbly.

"When one hears Monsieur, one has the devil in one's body."

"Listen to this," said the delighted Paragot jumping on to his feet and
tucking the fiddle beneath his chin.

And there in the pure dawn with nothing but God's sky and green fields
around us, he played Gounod's "Ave Maria," putting into his execution
all his imaginative fervour, and accentuating the tremolo passages in a
vibrating ecstasy which to Blanquette's uncultured soul was the very
passion of music. I have since learned that the greatest violinists do
not overemphasise the tremolo.

"Ah Dieu! it is beautiful," she murmured.

"Isn't it?" cried Paragot. "And it touches your heart, my little
Blanquette, eh? We are all artists together."

"I, Monsieur?"

She laughed and ran her hands over the zither strings.

"I ought to be at work in the fields. So Père Paragot used to say. I
make no progress--I am as stupid as a goose."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours afterwards we started for Chambéry, as odd a procession as
ever gave food for a high-road's gaiety. From the old grey valise
carried the previous day by Blanquette she had produced much property
finery. A black velveteen jacket resplendent with pearl-buttons,
velveteen knee-breeches tied with ribbons at the knees, and a rakish
Alpine hat with a feather adorned my master's person. His own
disreputable heavy boots and a pair of grey worsted stockings may not
have formed a fastidious finish to the costume; but in my eyes he looked
magnificent. Towards the transfiguration of Blanquette a Pandora box
could not have effected more. She was attired in a short skirt, a white
_fichu_ moderately fresh, a kind of Italian head-dress and scarlet
stockings. Enormous gilt ear-rings swung from her ears; a cable of blue
beads encircled her neck; her lips were dyed pomegranate, her eyes
darkened and her cheeks touched with rouge. A pair of substantial gilt
shoes slung over her shoulders clinked their heels together as she
walked. Narcisse barked his ecstatic admiration around this beauteous
creature, and had I been a dog I should have barked mine too. My dignity
as a man only allowed me to cast sidelong glances at her and hope that
she would soon put on the gilt shoes. As for my master, on beholding
her, he doffed his hat and saluted her with a fantastic compliment,
whereat the girl blushed brick-red and turned her head away.

"Motley's the only wear, my son," he cried gaily. "In this cap and
bells, I see life under a different aspect. Never has it appeared to me
sweeter and more irresponsible. Don't you feel it? But I forgot. You
haven't any motley. I apologise for my want of tact. Blanquette," he
added in French, "why haven't you found a costume for Asticot?"

Blanquette replied in her matter-of-fact way that she hadn't any. They
walked on together, and I dropped behind suddenly realising my
pariahdom. I wondered whether these magnificent beings would be ashamed
of my company when we arrived at Chambéry. I pictured myself sitting
lonesome with Narcisse in the market-place while they revelled in their
splendour, and the self-pity of the child overcame me.

"Master," said I dismally, "what shall Narcisse and I do while you are
at the wedding?"

He wheeled round and regarded me, and I knew by the light in his eyes
that an inspiration was taking shape behind them.

"I'll buy you a red shirt and pomade your hair, and you shall be one of
us, my son, and go round with the hat."

I exulted obviously.

"Now the dog will feel out of it," said he, perplexed. "I will consult
Blanquette. Do you think we could shave Narcisse and make him think he's
a poodle?"

"That would be impossible, Monsieur," replied Blanquette gravely.

As Narcisse was enjoying himself to his heart's content, darting from
side to side of the road and sniffing for the smells his soul delighted
in, I did not concern myself about his feelings.

For Paragot's suggestion which I knew was ironically directed against
myself, I did not care. So long as I was to be with my companions and of
them, irony did not matter. I caught the twinkle in his eye and laughed.
He was as joyous as Narcisse. The gladness of the July morning danced in
his veins. He pulled the violin and bow out of the old baize bag and
fiddled as we walked. It must have been an amazing procession.

       *       *       *       *       *

And the old man whose clothes and functions we had assumed lay cold and
stiff in the little lonely room with candles at his head and his feet.
During our railway journey to Chambéry Blanquette told us in her artless
way what she knew of his history. In the flesh he had been a crabbed and
crotchety ancient addicted to drink. He had passed some years of his
middle life in prison for petty thefts. In his youth--Blanquette's mind
could not grasp the idea of Père Paragot having once been young--he must
have been an astonishing blackguard. He had been wont to beat
Blanquette, until one day realising her young strength she held him firm
in her grip and threatened to throw him into a pond if he persisted in
his attempted chastisement. Since then he had respected her person, but
to the day of his death he had cursed her for anserine stupidity. An
unlovely, loveless and unloved old man. Why should Blanquette have wept
over him? She had not the Parisian's highly strung temperament and
capacity for facile emotion. She was peasant to the core, slow to
rejoice, and slow to grieve, and she had the peasant's remorseless
logic in envisaging the elemental facts of existence. Père Paragot was
wicked. He was dead. _Tant mieux._

       *       *       *       *       *

Blanquette had not the divine sense of humour which rainbows the tears
of the world. That was my dear master's possession. But at the obvious
she could laugh like any child of unsophistication. In the long shaded
avenue of Chambéry, with its crowded market-stalls on either
side--stalls where you saw displayed for sale rolls of calico and boots
and gauffrettes and rusty locks and melons and rosaries and flyblown
books--Paragot bought me my red shirt (which--_mirabile dictu!_--had
tasselled cords to tie the collar) and pomade for my hair. He also
purchased a yard of blue chiffon which he tied in an artistic bow round
Narcisse's neck, whereat Blanquette laughed heartily; and when Narcisse
bolted beneath a flower-stall and growling dispossessed himself of the
adornment, and set to with tooth and claw to rend it into fragments, she
threw herself on a bench convulsed with mirth. As Paragot had spent
fifty centimes on the chiffon I thought this hilarity exceedingly
ill-natured; but when another and a larger dog came up to see what
Narcisse was doing and in half a minute was whirling about with Narcisse
in a death grapple, and Blanquette sprang forward, separated the two
dogs at some risk and took our bleeding mongrel to her bosom, consoling
him with womanly words of pity, I saw there was something tender in
Blanquette which mitigated my resentment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Restaurant du Soleil, where the marriage feast was held, was an
earwiggy hostelry on the outskirts of the town, sheltered from the
prying roadway by a screen of green lattice and a series of _tonnelles_,
the dusty arbours, each furnished with table and chairs, beloved of
French revellers. Above the entrance gate stretched the semi-circular
sign-board bearing in addition to the name, the legend "Jardin. Noces.
Fêtes." Within, a few lime-trees closely planted threw deep shadow over
the grassless garden; shrubs and flowers wilted in a neglected bed.

Usually the forlorn demesne was supervised by a mangy waiter brooding
over mangy tables and by a mangier cat who kept a furtive eye on the
placarded list of each day's _plat du jour_ and wondered when her turn
would come for Thursday's _Sauté de lapin_. But tables, cat and waiter
cast manginess aside when _we_(the pride of that day still remains and
makes me italicise the word) came down to play at the wedding of Adolphe
Querlat and Léontine Bringuet.

"_Tiens!_ where is Père Paragot?" asked fat Madame Bringuet--perspiring
in unaccustomed corset and black bombazine.

"Alas! he is no longer, Madame," explained Blanquette. "He had a seizure
yesterday. He fell off his chair, and we picked him up stone dead."

"_Tiens, tiens_, but it is sad."

"But no. It does not matter. This gentleman will make you dance much
better than Père Paragot," and she whispered encomiums into Madame's
ear.

"Enchanted, Monsieur. And your name?"

My master swept a courtly bow with his feathered hat--no one ever bowed
so magnificently as he.

"Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, _cadet_, at your service."

"You must be hungry, Monsieur Paragot--and Mademoiselle and this little
monsieur," said Madame Bringuet hospitably. "We are at table in the
_salle à manger_. You will join us."

We entered the long narrow room and sat down to the banquet. Heavens!
what a feast! There were omelettes and geese and eels and duck and tripe
and onion soup and sausages and succulences inconceivable. Accustomed to
the Spartan fare of vagabondage I plunged into the dishes head foremost
like a hungry puppy. Should I eat such a meal as that to-day it would be
my death. Hey for the light heart and elastic stomach of youth! Some
fifty persons, the _ban and arrière ban_ of the relations of the young
couple, guzzled in a wedged and weltering mass. Wizened grandfathers and
stolid large-eyed children ate and panted in the suffocating heat, and
gorged again. Not till half way through the repast did tongues begin to
wag freely. At last the tisane of champagne--syrupy paradise to my
uncultivated palate--was handed round and the toasts were drunk. The
bride's garter was secured amid boisterous shouts and innuendos, and
then we left the stifling room and entered the garden, the elders to
smoke and drink and gossip at the little tables beneath the verandah,
the younger folk to dance on the uneven gravel. Young as I was, I felt
grateful that no physical exercise was required of me for some hours to
come. Even Narcisse and the cat (which followed him) waddled heavily to
the verandah where we were to play.

The signal to start was soon given. Paragot tucked his violin under his
chin, tuned up, waved one, two, three with his bow; Blanquette struck a
cord on her zither and the dance began. At first all was desperately
correct. The men in their ill-fitting broadcloth and white ties and
enormous wedding favours, the women in their tight and decent finery,
gyrated with solemn circumspection. But by degrees the music and the
good Savoy wines and the abominable cognac flushed faces and set heads
a-swimming. The sweltering heat caused a gradual discarding of garments.
Arms took a closer grip of waists. Loud laughter and free jests replaced
formal conversation; steps were performed of Southern fantasy; the dust
rose in clouds; throats were choked though countenances streamed; the
consumption of wine was Rabelaisian. And all through the orgy Paragot
fiddled with strenuous light-heartedness, and Blanquette thrummed her
zither with the awful earnestness of a woman on whose efforts ten francs
and perhaps half a goose depended. But it was Paragot who made the
people dance. To me, sitting in red shirt and pomaded hair at his feet,
it seemed as if he were a magician. He threw his bow across the strings
and compelled them to do his bidding. He was the great, the omnipotent
personage of the feast. I sunned myself in his glory.

Indeed, he had the incommunicable gift of setting his soul a-dancing as
he played, of putting the devil into the feet of those who danced. The
wedding party were enraptured. If he had consumed all the bumpers he was
offered, he would have been as drunk as a fiddler at an Irish wake.
During a much needed interval in the dancing he advanced to the edge of
the verandah and as a solo played Stephen Heller's "Tarantella," which
crowned his triumph. With his unkempt beard and swarthy face and
ridiculous pearl-buttoned velveteens, there was an air of rakish
picturesqueness about Paragot, and he retained, what indeed he never
quite lost, a certain aristocracy of demeanour. Wild cries of "_Bis!_"
saluted him when he stopped. Men clapped each other on the shoulder
uttering clumsy oaths, women smiled at him largely. Madame Bringuet,
reeking in her tight gown, held up to him a brimming glass of champagne;
the bride threw him a rose. He kissed the flower, put it in his
button-hole and after bowing low drank to her health. I recalled my
childish ambition to keep a fried fish shop and despised it heartily. If
I only could play the violin like Paragot, thought I, and win the
plaudits of the multitude, what greater glory could the earth hold? The
practical Blanquette woke me from my dreams. Now was the moment, said
she, to go round with the hat. I swung myself down from the verandah,
the traditional shell (in lieu of a hat) in my hand, and went my round.
Money was poured into it. Time after time I emptied it into my bulging
pockets. When I returned to the verandah, Blanquette's eyes distended
strangely. She glanced at Paragot, who smiled at her in an absent
manner. For the moment the artist in him was predominant. He was the
centre of his little world, and its adulation was as breath to his
nostrils.

This is what I, the mature man, know to be the case. To me, then, he was
but the King receiving tribute from his subjects. When Paragot with a
flourish of his bow responded to the encore, I found my hand slip into
Blanquette's and there it remained in a tight grip till flushed and
triumphant he again acknowledged the applause. Nothing was said between
Blanquette and myself, but she became my sworn sister from that moment.
And Narcisse sat at our feet looking down on the crowd, his tongue
lolling out mockingly and a satiric leer on his face.

"My children," said Paragot, on our return journey in the close,
ill-lighted, wooden-seated third-class compartment, "we have had a
glorious day. One of those sun-kissed, snow-capped peaks that rise here
and there in the monotonous range of life. It fills the soul with poetry
and makes one talk in metaphor. In such moments as these we are all
metaphors, my son. We are illuminated expressions of the divine standing
for the commonplace things of yesterday and tomorrow. We have
accomplished what millions and millions are striving and struggling and
failing to do at this very hour. We have achieved _success_! We have
left on human souls the impress of our mastery! We are also all of us
dog-tired and, I perceive, disinclined to listen to transcendental
conversation."

"I'm not tired, master," I declared as stoutly as the effort of keeping
open two leaden eyelids would allow.

"And you?" he asked turning to Blanquette by his side--I occupied the
opposite corner.

She confessed. A very little. But she had listened to all Monsieur had
said, and if he continued to talk she would not think of going to sleep.
Whereupon she closed her eyes, and when I opened mine I saw that her
head had slipped along the smooth wooden back of the carriage and rested
on Paragot's shoulder. Through sheer kindliness and pity he had put his
arm around her so as to settle her comfortably as she slept. I envied
her.

When she awoke at the first stoppage of the train, she started away from
him with a little gasp.

"O Monsieur! I did not know. You should have told me."

"I am only Père Paragot," said he. "You must often have had your head
against this mountebank jacket of mine."

She misunderstood him. Her eyes flashed.

"It is the first time in my life--I swear it." She held up her two
forefingers crossed and kissed them. "Père Paragot! _ah non!_ neither he
nor another. I am an honest girl, though you may not think so."

"My good Blanquette," said he kindly, taking her scarred coarse hand in
his, "you are as honest a girl as ever breathed, and if Père Paragot
didn't let you put your sleepy little head on his shoulder he must have
been a stonier hearted old curmudgeon than you have given one to
believe."

So he soothed her and explained, while our two fellow passengers, a
wizened old peasant and his wife, regarded them stolidly.

"_Mon Dieu_, it is hot," said Blanquette. "Don't you think so, Asticot?
I wish I had a fan."

"I will make you one out of the paper the fowl is wrapped in," said
Paragot.

Not half a goose, but a cold fowl minus half a wing had been our
supplementary guerdon. Decently enveloped in a sheet of newspaper it lay
on her lap. When he had divested it of its covering, which he proceeded
to twist into a fan, it still lay on her lap, looking astonishingly
naked.

At the next station the old peasant and his wife got out and we had the
compartment to ourselves. Blanquette produced from her pocket a
handkerchief knotted over an enormous lump.

"These are the takings, Monsieur. It looks small; but they changed the
coppers into silver at the restaurant for me."

"It's a fortune," laughed my master.

"It is much," she replied gravely, and undoing the knot she offered him
with both hands the glittering treasure. "I hope you will be a little
generous, Monsieur--I know it was you who gained the _quête_."

"My good child!" cried he, interrupting her and pushing back her hands,
"what lunacy are you uttering? Do you imagine that I go about fiddling
for pence at village weddings?"

"But Monsieur--"

"But little imbecile, I did it to help you, to enable you to get your
ten francs and half a goose. Asticot too. Haven't you been enchanted all
day to be of service to Mademoiselle? Do you want to be paid for wearing
a red shirt with a tasselled collar and pommade in your hair? Aren't we
going about the world like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza rescuing damsels
in distress? Isn't that the lodestar of our wanderings?"

"Yes, master," said I.

Blanquette looked open-mouthed from him to me, from me to him, scarce
able to grasp such magnanimity. To the peasant, money is a commodity to
be struggled for, fought for, grasped, prized; to be doled out like the
drops of a priceless Elixir Vitæ. Paragot had the aristocratic, artistic
scorn of it; and I, as I have said before, was the pale reflexion of
Paragot.

"It is yours," I explained, as might a great prince's chamberlain, "the
master gained it for you."

The tears came into her eyes. The corners of her lips went down. Paragot
turned half round in his seat and put his hands on her shoulders.

"If you spill tears on the fowl you will make it too salt, and I shall
throw it out of the window."

       *       *       *       *       *

Paragot paid the modest funeral expenses of the worn-out fiddler. Asked
why he did not leave the matter in the hands of the communal
authorities he replied that he could not take a man's name without
paying for it. Such an appellation as Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot was
worth a deal coffin and a mass or two. This fine sense of integrity was
above Blanquette's comprehension. She thought the funeral was a waste of
money.

"It should go to benefit the living and not the dead," she argued.

"Wait till you are dead yourself," he replied, "and see how you would
like to be robbed of your name. There are many things for you to learn,
my child."

"_Il n'y a pas beaucoup_--not many," she said with a sigh. "We who are
poor and live on the high-roads learn very quickly. If you are hungry
and have two sous you can buy bread. If you only have two sous and you
throw them to a dog who doesn't need them, you have nothing to buy bread
with, and you starve. And it is not so easy to gain two sous."

Paragot sucked reflectively at his porcelain pipe.

"Asticot," said he, "the _argumentum ad ventrem_ is irrefutable."

"Now I must go and make my _malle_" she said. "I return to Chambéry to
try to earn my two sous."

"Won't you stay here over the night? You must be very tired."

"One must work for one's living, Monsieur," she said moving away.

It was afternoon. We had trudged the three dusty miles back from the
tiny churchyard where we had left the old man's unlamented grave, and
Paragot, as usual, was washing his throat with beer. It must be noted,
not to his glorification, that about this time a chronic dryness began
to be the main characteristic of Paragot's throat, and the only
humectant that seemed to be of no avail was water.

The sun still blazed and the hush of the July afternoon lay over the
valley. Paragot watched the thickset form of Blanquette disappear into
the café; he poured out another bottle of beer and addressed Narcisse
who was blinking idly up at him.

"If she had a pair of decent stays, my dog, or no stays at all, she
might have something of a figure. What do you think? On the whole--no."

Narcisse stood on his hind legs, his forepaws on his master's arm, and
uttered little plaintive whines. Paragot patted him on the head.

As I was engaged a yard or two away, elbows on knees, in what Paragot
was pleased to call my studies--Thierry's "Récits des Temps
Mérovingiens," a tattered, flyblown copy of which he had bought at
Chambéry--he was careful not to interrupt me; he talked to the dog.
Paragot had to talk to something. If he were alone he would have talked
to his shadow; in his coffin he would have apostrophised the worms.

"Yes, my dog," said he, after a draught of beer. "We have passed through
more than we wotted of these two days. We have held a human being by the
hand and have faced with her the eternal verities. Now she is going to
earn her two sous in the whirlpool, and the whirlpool will suck her
down, and as she has not claims to beauty, Narcisse, of any kind
whatsoever, either of face or figure, hers will be a shuddersome career
and end. Say you are sorry for poor Blanquette de Veau."

Narcisse sniffed at the table, but finding it bare of everything but
beer, in which he took no interest, dropped on his four legs and curled
himself up in dudgeon.

"You damned cynical sensualist," cried my master. "I have wasted the
breath of my sentiment upon you." And he called out for the landlady and
more beer.

Presently Blanquette emerged laden with zither case and fiddle and
little grey valise and the pearl-buttoned suit which was slung over one
arm.

"Monsieur," she said, putting down her impedimenta, "the _patronne_ has
told me that you have paid for my lodging and my nourishment. I am very
grateful, Monsieur. And if you will accept this costume it will be a way
of repaying your kindness."

Paragot rose, took the suit and laid it on his chair.

"I accept it loyally," said he, with a bow, as if Blanquette had been a
duchess.

"_Adieu, Monsieur, et merci_," she said holding out her hand.

Paragot stuck both his hands in his trousers pockets.

"My good child," said he, "you are bound straight for the most cheerless
hell that was ever inhabited by unamusing devils."

Blanquette shrugged her shoulders and spoke in her dull fatalistic way.

"_Que voulez-vous?_ I know it is not gay. But it is in the _métier_.
When Père Paragot was alive it was different. He had his good qualities,
Père Paragot. He was like a watch-dog. If any man came near me he was
fierce. I did not amuse myself, it is true, but I remained an honest
girl. Now it is changed. I am alone. I go into a brasserie to play and
dance. I can get an engagement at the Café Brasserie Tissot," and then
after a pause, turning her head away, she added the fatalistic words
she had used before: "_If faut passer par là, comme les autres_."

"I forbid you!" cried my master, striding up and down in front of her
and ejaculating horrible oaths. He invoked the sacred name of pigs and
of all kinds of other things. My attention had long since been diverted
from the learned Monsieur Thierry, and I wondered what she had to pass
through like the others. It must be something dreadful, or my master
would not be raving so profanely. I learned in after years. Of all
mutilated lives there are few more ghastly than those of the _fille de
brasserie_ in a small French provincial town. And here was Blanquette
about to abandon herself to it with stolid, hopeless resignation. There
was no question of vicious instinct. What semblance of glamour the life
presented did not attract her in the least. A sweated alien faces
rabbit-pulling in the East End with more pleasurable anticipation.

"I am not going to allow you to take an engagement in a brasserie!"
shouted my master. "Do you hear? I forbid you!"

"But Monsieur----" began Blanquette piteously.

Then Paragot had one of his sudden inspirations. He crashed his fist on
the little table so that the glass and bottles leaped and Narcisse
darted for shelter into the café.

"_Tron de l'air!_" he cried. "I have it. It is an illumination.
Asticot--here! Leave your book. I shall be Paragot in character as well
as name. We shall fiddle with Blanquette as we fiddled yesterday--and I
shall be a watch-dog like Père Paragot and keep her an honest girl.
We'll make it a firm, Paragot and Company, and there will always be two
sous for bread and two to throw to a dog. I like throwing sous to dogs.
It is my nature. Now I know why I was sent into the world. It was to
play the fiddle up and down the sunny land of France. My little Asticot,
why haven't we thought of it before? You shall learn to play the
trumpet, Asticot, and Narcisse shall walk on his hind legs and collect
the money. It will be magnificent!"

"Are you serious, Monsieur?" asked Blanquette, trembling.

"Serious? Over an inspiration that came straight from the _bon Dieu_?
But yes, I am serious. _Et toi?_" he added sharply using for the first
time the familiar pronoun, "are you afraid I will beat you like Père
Paragot?"

"You can if you like," she said huskily; and I wondered why on earth she
should have turned the colour of cream cheese.



CHAPTER VII


NOT being content with having attached to his person a stray dog and a
mongrel boy and rendering himself responsible for their destinies,
Paragot must now saddle himself with a young woman. Had she been a
beautiful gipsy, holding fascinating allurements in lustrous eyes and
pomegranate lips, and witchery in a supple figure, the act would have
been a commonplace of human weakness. But in the case of poor
Blanquette, squat and coarse, her heavy features only redeemed from
ugliness by youth, honesty and clean teeth, the eternal attraction of
sex was absent.

From the decorative point of view she was as unlovely as Narcisse or
myself. She was dull, unimaginative, ignorant, as far removed from
Paragot as Narcisse from a greyhound. Why then, in the name of men and
angels, should Paragot have taken her under his protection? My only
answer to the question is that he was Paragot. Judge other men by
whatever standard you have to hand; it will serve its purpose in a rough
and ready manner; but Paragot--unless with me idolatry has obscured
reason--Paragot can only be measured by that absolute standard which
lies awful and unerring on the knees of the high gods.

Of course he saved the girl from a hideous doom. Thousands of kindly,
earnest men have done the same in one way or another. But Paragot's way
was different from anyone else's. Its glorious lunacy lifted it above
ordinary human methods.

So many of your wildly impulsive people repent them of their
generosities as soon as the magnanimous fervour has cooled. The grandeur
of Paragot lay in the fact that he never repented. He was fantastic,
self-indulgent, wastrel, braggart, what you will; but he had an
exaggerated notion of the value of every human soul save his own. The
destiny of poor Blanquette was to him of infinitely more importance than
that of the wayward genius that was Paragot. The pathos of his point of
view had struck me, even as a child, when he discoursed on my prospects.

"I am Paragot, my son," he would say, "a film full of wind and wonder,
fantasy and folly, driven like thistledown about the world. I do not
count. But you, my little Asticot, have the Great Responsibility before
you. It is for you to uplift a corner of the veil of Life and show joy
to men and women where they would not have sought it. Work now and
gather wisdom, my son, so that when the Great Day comes you may not miss
your destiny." And once, he added wistfully--"as I have missed mine."

       *       *       *       *       *

As Paragot decided that we should not start off then and there into the
unknown but remain at the café until we had laid our plan of campaign,
Blanquette took her valise into the house, and, for the rest of the day,
busied herself in the kitchen with the _patronne_; Paragot drank with
the villagers in the café; and I, when Thierry and Narcisse had given me
all the companionship they had to offer, curled myself up on the
mattress spread in a corner of the tiny _salle à manger_ and went to
sleep.

The next morning Paragot awakened with an Idea. He would go to
Aix-les-Bains which was close by, and would return in the evening. The
nature of his errand he would not tell me. Who was I, little grey worm
that I was, to question his outgoings and his incomings? The little grey
worm would stay with Blanquette and Narcisse and see to it that they did
not bite each other. I humbly accepted the rebuke and obeyed the behest.
The afternoon found the three of us in a field under a tree; Blanquette
embracing her knees, and the dog asleep with his throat across her feet.
She was wearing her old cotton dress, and as she had been helping the
_patronne_ all the morning, her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows
displaying stout, stubby arms. The top button of her bodice was open;
she was bare-headed, but her hair, little deeper in shade than her
tanned face and neck, was coiled neatly. Had it not been for the hard
grip of the day before I should have jealously resented her admission
into our vagabond fraternity. As it was, from the height of my
sixteen-year-old masculinity I somewhat looked down upon her: not as
poor Blanquette, the zither-playing vagrant; but as a girl. Could we,
creation's lords, do with a creature of an inferior sex in our
wanderings? Could she perform our feats of endurance? I questioned her
anxiously.

"_Moi?_" she laughed, "I am as strong as any man. You will see."

She leaped to her feet and, before I could protest, had picked me off
the ground like a kitten and was tossing me in her arms.

"_Voilà!_" she said, depositing me tenderly on the grass; and having
collected the dislodged Narcisse she embraced her knees and laughed
again. It was a kind honest laugh; a good-natured, big boy's laugh,
coming full out of her eyes and shewing her strong white teeth. I lost
the sense of insult in admiration of her strength.

"You should have been a boy, Blanquette," said I.

She assented, acknowledging at once her inferiority and thus restoring
my self respect.

"You are lucky, you, to be one. In this world the egg is for the men and
the shell is for the women."

"Why don't you cut off your hair and put on boy's clothes?" I asked.
"Then you would get the egg. No one could tell the difference."

"You don't think I look like a woman? I? _Mon Dieu!_ Where are your
eyes?"

She was actually indignant with me who had thought to please her: my
first encounter with the bewildering paradox of woman.

"_Ah! mais non_," she panted. "I may be strong like a man, but _grâce à
Dieu_, I don't resemble one. Look."

And she sat bolt upright, her hands at her waist developing her bust to
its full extent. She was not _jolie, jolie_, she explained, but she was
as solidly built as another; I was to examine myself and see how like I
was to the flattest of boards. Routed I chewed blades of grass in
silence until she spoke again.

"Tell me of the _patron_."

"The _patron_?" I asked, puzzled.

"Yes--Monsieur--your master."

"You must call him _maître_," said I, "not _patron_." For the _patron_
was any peddling "boss," the leader of a troupe of performing dogs or
the miserable landlord of a village inn, Paragot a _patron_!

"I meant no harm. I have too much respect for him," said Blanquette,
humbly.

Again reinstated in my position of superiority I explained the Master to
her feminine intelligence.

"He has been to every place in the world and knows everything that is to
be known, and speaks every language that is spoken under the sun, and
has read every book that ever was written, and I have seen him break a
violin over a man's head."

"_Tiens!_" said Blanquette.

"In the Forum at Rome last winter he had an argument with the most
learned professor in Europe who is making the excavations, and proved
him to be wrong."

"_Tiens!_" repeated Blanquette, much impressed, though of Forum or
excavations she had no more notion than Narcisse.

"If he wanted to be a king tomorrow, he would only have to go up to a
throne and sit upon it."

"But no," said Blanquette. "To be a king one must be a king's son."

"How do you know that he isn't?" I asked with a could-and if-I-would
expression of mystery.

"King's sons don't go about the high roads with little _gamins_ like
you," replied the practical Blanquette.

"How do you know that I am not a king's son too?" I asked, less with the
idea of self-aggrandisement than that of vindication of Paragot.

"Because you yourself said that your mother sold you as my mother sold
me to Père Paragot."

Whereupon it suddenly occurred to me that as far as retentiveness of
memory was concerned, Blanquette was not such a fool as in my arrogance
I had set her down to be. I was going to retort that his magnificence
in purchasing me proved him a personage of high order, but as I quickly
reflected that the same argument might apply to the rank of the
contemned Père Paragot, I refrained. A silence ensuing, I uncomfortably
resolved to study my master with a view to acquiring his skill in
repartee.

"But what does he do, the Master?" enquired Blanquette.

"Do? What do you mean?"

"How does he earn his living?"

"That shows you know nothing about him," I cried triumphantly. "King's
sons do not earn their living. They have got it already. Haven't you
ever read that in books?"

"I can read and write, but I don't read books," sighed Blanquette. "I am
not clever. You will have to teach me."

"This is the book I am reading," said I, taking the "Récits des Temps
Mérovingiens" from my pocket.

Again Blanquette sighed. "You must be very clever, Asticot."

"Not at all," said I modestly, but I felt that it was nice of Blanquette
to realise the intellectual gulf between us. "It is the Master who has
taught me all I know." I spoke, God wot, as if my knowledge would have
burst through the covers of an Encyclopædia--"Three years ago I could
not speak a word of French. Fancy. And now----"

"You still talk like an Englishman," said Blanquette.

Looking back now on those absurd far-off days, I wonder whether after
all I did not learn as much that was vital from Blanquette as from
Paragot. Her downright, direct, unimaginative common-sense amounted to
genius. At the time I preferred genius in the fantastic form which
inflated my bubbles of self-conceit, instead of bursting them; but in
after life one has a high appreciation of the burster.

In the moment's mortification, however, I recriminated.

"You make worse mistakes than I do. You say '_j'allons faire_,' when you
ought to say '_je vais faire_' and I heard you talk about _une chien_."

"That is because I have no education," replied Blanquette, with her
grave humility. "I speak like the peasants; not like instructed
people--not like the Master, for instance."

"No one could speak like the Master," said I.

There was a long silence. Blanquette hugged her knees and Narcisse
snored at her feet, accepting her as vagabond comrade. I lay on my back
and forgot Blanquette; and out of the intricacies of myriad leaf and
branch against the sky wove pictures of Merovingian women. There where
the black branches cut a lozenge of blue was the pale Queen Galeswinthe
lying on her bed. Through yon dark cluster of under-leaves one could
discern the strangler sent by King Hilperic to murder her. And in that
radiant patch silhouetted clear and cold and fierce in loveliness was
Frédégonde waiting for the King. She was a glittering sword of a woman
whose slayings fascinated me. I much preferred her to the gentler
Brunehilde whose form I saw outlined in a soft shadow of green. I tried
to find frames in my aerial gallery for Brunehilde's two daughters,
Ingonde and Chlodoswinde, especially the latter whose name appealed to
my acquired taste for odd nomenclature, and the conscious effort brought
me back to the modern world, and the sound of Blanquette's voice.

"_Tu sais_, Asticot, I can wash the Master's shirts and mend his
clothes. I can also make his coffee in the morning."

Her eyes had a far-away look. She was living in the land of day dreams
even as I had been.

"I always prepare the Master's breakfast," said I jealously.

"It is the woman's duty."

"I don't care," I retorted.

She unclasped her hands, and coming forward on to her knees and bending
over me, brushed a strand of hair from my forehead.

"I will prepare yours too, Asticot," she said gently, "and you will see
how nice that will be. Men can't do these things where there is a woman
to look after them. It is not proper."

So, flattered in my masculinity, being ranked with Paragot as a "man," I
took a sultanesque view of the situation and graciously consented to her
proposed ministrations.

       *       *       *       *       *

Paragot came back triumphant from Aix-les-Bains. Hadn't he told me he
had been inspired to go there? The man who played the violin at the
open-air Restaurant by the Lac de Bourget had just that day fallen ill.
The result, a week's engagement for Blanquette and himself.

"But, my child," said he, "you will have to suffer an inharmonious son
of Satan who makes a discordant Hades out of an execrable piano. He had
the impudence to tell me that he came from the Conservatoire. He, with
as much ear for music as an organ-grinder's monkey! He said to
me--Paragot--that I played the violin not too badly! I foresee a hideous
doom overhanging that young man, my children. Before the week is out I
will throw him into the maw of his soul-devouring piano. Ha! my
children, give me to drink, for I am thirsty."

Mindful of my dignity as a man, I glanced at Blanquette, who went into
the café obediently, while I stayed with my master. It was a sweet
moment. Paragot gripped me by the shoulder.

"My son, while Blanquette and I work, which Carlyle says is the noblest
function of man, but concerning which I have my own ideas, you cannot
live in red-shirted, pomaded and otherwise picturesque and studious
laziness. Look," he cried, pointing to a round, flat object wrapped in
paper which he had brought with him. "Do you know what that is?"

"That," said I, "is a cake."

"It is a tambourine," said my master.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day found us in the garden of the little lake-side restaurant
at Aix-les-Bains playing at lunch time. The young man at the piano whom
I had expected to see a fiend in human shape was a harmless consumptive
fellow who played with the sweet patience of a musical box. He shook
hands with me and called me "_cher collègue_," and before nightfall told
me of a disastrous love-story in consequence of which, were it not for
his mother, he would drown himself in the lake. He effaced himself
before Paragot much as the bellows-blower does before the organist. His
politeness to Blanquette would have put to the blush any young man at
the Bon Marché or the Louvre. His name was Laripet.

I was ordered to make modest use of my tambourine until sufficient
instruction from Paragot should authorise him to let me loose with it; I
was merely to add to the picturesqueness of the group on the platform,
and at intervals to go the round of the guests collecting money. I liked
this, for I could then jingle the tambourine without fear of reproof.
You have no idea what an ordeal it is for a boy to have a tambourine
which he must not jingle. But the shady charm of the garden compensated
for the repression of noisy instincts. After months of tramping in the
broiling sun, free and perfect as it was, the easy loafing life seemed
sweet. We went little into the gay town itself. For my part I did not
like it. Aix-les-Bains consisted of a vast Enchanted Garden set in a
valley, great mountains hemming it round. Skirting the Enchanted Garden
were shady streets and mysterious palaces, some having gardens of their
own of a secondary enchantment, and shops where jewels and perfumes and
white ties and flowers and other objects of strange luxury were
exhibited in the windows. But these took the humble place of mere
accessories to the Enchanted Garden, jealously guarded against Asticot
by great high gilded railings and by blue-coated, silver-buttoned
functionaries at the gates. Within rose two Wonder Houses gorgeous with
dome and pinnacle, bewildering with gold and snow, displaying before the
aching sight the long cool stretch of verandahs, and offering the
baffling glimpse of vast interiors whence floated the dim sound of music
and laughter; and bright, happy beings, in wondrous raiment, wandered in
and out unchallenged, unconcerned, as if the Wonder Houses were their
birthright.

I, a shabby, penniless little Peri, stood at the gilded gates
disconsolate. I didn't like it. The mystery of the unknown beatitude
within the Wonder Houses oppressed me to faintness. _It was
unimaginable._ Through the leaves of a tree I could see the pale Queen
Galeswinthe; but through those gay enchanting walls I could see nothing.
They baulked my soul. When I tried to explain my feelings to Paragot he
looked at me in his kind, sad way and shook his head.

"My wonder-headed little Asticot," said he, "within those gewgaw Wonder
Houses----" Then he stopped abruptly and waved me away, "No. It's a
devilish good thing for you to have something your imagination boggles
at. Stick to the Ideal, my son, and hug the Unexplained. The people who
have solved the Riddle of the Universe at fifteen are bowled over by the
Enigma of their cook at fifty. Plug your life as full as it can hold
with fantasy and fairy-tale, and thank God that your soul is baulked by
the Mysteries of the Casinos of Aix-les-Bains."

"But what do they do there, Master?" I persisted.

"The men worship strange goddesses and the women run after false gods,
and all practice fascinating idolatries."

I did not in the least know what he meant, which was what he intended.
When I consulted Blanquette one morning, as she and I alone were
sauntering down the long shady avenue which connects the town with the
little-port of the lake, she said that people went into the Cercle and
the Villa des Fleurs, the two Wonder Houses aforesaid, merely to gamble.
I pooh-poohed the notion.

"The Master says they are Temples of great strange gods, where people
worship."

"Gods! What an idea! _Il n'y a que le bon Dieu_," quoth Blanquette.

"You have evidently not heard of the gods of Greece and Rome, Jupiter
and Apollo and Venus and Bacchus."

"_Ah, tiens_," said Blanquette. "I have heard Italians swear 'Corpo di
Bacco.' That is why?"

"Of course," said I in my grandest manner, "and there are heaps of other
gods besides."

"All the same," she objected, "I always thought the Italians were good
Catholics."

"So they may be," said I, "but that doesn't prove that there are not
beautiful gods and goddesses and idols and shrines in the Cercle and the
Villa des Fleurs."

As this was unanswerable Blanquette diverted the conversation to the
less transcendental topic of the premature baldness of Monsieur Laripet.

       *       *       *       *       *

If the doings of the bright happy beings were hidden from me while they
worshipped in the Casinos, I at least met them at close quarters in the
garden of the Restaurant du Lac. In some respects this garden resembled
that of the Restaurant du Soleil at Chambéry. There was a verandah round
the restaurant itself, there were trees in joyous leafage, there were
little tables, and there were waiters hurrying to and fro with napkins
under their arms. But that was all the resemblance. Our little platform
stood against the railings separating the garden from the quay. Behind
us shimmered the blue lake, great mountains rising behind; away on the
right, embosomed in the green mountainside, flashed the white Château de
Hautecombe. Always in mid-lake a tiny paddle-steamer churned up a wake
of white foam. On the quay itself stood an enchanting little box--a
_camera obscura_--to which I as a fellow artist was given the _entrée_
by the proprietor, and in which one could see heavenly pictures of the
surrounding landscape; there were also idle cabs with white awnings, and
fezzed Turks perspiring under furs and rugs which they hawked for sale.
In front of us, within the garden, a joyous crowd of the radiantly
raimented laughed over dainty food set on snowy cloths. Here and there a
lobster struck a note of colour, or a ray of sunlight striking through
the red or gold translucencies of wine in a glass: which distracted my
attention from my orchestral duties and caused an absent-minded jingle
of my tambourine.

What I loved most was to make my round among the tables and mingle
closely with the worshippers. Of the men, clean and correct in their
perfectly fitting flannels, sometimes stern, sometimes mocking,
sometimes pettishly cross, I was rather shy; but I was quite at my ease
with the women, even with those whose many rings and jewels, violent
perfumes and daring effects of dress made me instinctively differentiate
from their quieter and less bejewelled sisters. Blanquette laughingly
called me a "_petit polisson_" and said that I made soft eyes at them.
Perhaps I did. When one is a hundred and fifty it is hard to realise
that one's little scarecrow boy's eyes may have touched the hearts of
women. But the appeal of the outstretched tambourine was rarely refused.

"Get out of this," the man would say.

"But no. Remain. _Il a l'air si drôle_--what is your name?"

"_Je m'appelle Asticot, Madame, à votre service._"

This always amused the lady. She would search through an invariably
empty purse.

"Give him fifty centimes."

And the man would throw a silver piece into the tambourine.

Once I was in luck. The lady found a ten-franc piece in her purse.

"That is all I have."

"I have no change," growled the man.

"If I give you this," said the lady, "what would you do with it?"

"If Madame would tell me where to get it, I would buy a photograph of
Madame," said I, with one of Paragot's "inspirations"; for she was very
pretty.

"_Voilà_," she laughed putting the gold into my hand. "_Tu me fais la
cour, maintenant._ Come and see me at the Villa Marcelle and I will give
you a photograph gratis."

But Paragot when I repeated the conversation to him called the lady
shocking names, and forbade me to go within a mile of the Villa
Marcelle. So I did not get the photograph.

The next best thing I loved was to see Blanquette's eyes glitter when I
returned to the platform and poured silver and copper into her lap. She
uttered strange little exclamations under her breath, and her fingers
played caressingly with the coins.

"We gain more here in a day than Père Paragot did in a week. It is
wonderful. _N'est-ce pas, Maître?_" she said one morning.

Paragot tuned his violin and looked down on her.

"Money pleases you, Blanquette?"

"Of course."

She counted the takings sou by sou.

"Yet you did not want to accept your just share."

"What you make me take is not just, Master," she said, simply.

Much as she loved money, her sense of justice rebelled against Paragot's
division of the takings--a third for Laripet, a third for Blanquette and
a third for himself which he generously shared with me. Père Paragot
used to sweep into his pockets every sou and Blanquette had to subsist
on whatever he chose to allow for joint expenses. Her new position of
independence was a subject for much inward pride, mingled however with a
consciousness of her own unworthiness. Monsieur Laripet, yes; she would
grant that he was entitled to the same as the Master; but herself--no.
Was not the Master the great artist, and she but the clumsy strummer?
Was he not also a man, with more requirements than she--tobacco,
absinthe, brandy and the like?

"A third is too much," she added.

"If you argue," said he, "I will divide it in halves for Laripet and
yourself, and I won't touch a penny."

"That would be idiotic," said Blanquette.

"It would be in keeping with life generally," he answered. "In a comic
opera one thing is not more idiotic than another. Yes, Monsieur Laripet,
we will give them _Funiculi, Funiculà_. I once drove in coffin nails to
that tune in Verona. Now we will set people eating to it in
Aix-les-Bains--we, Monsieur Laripet, you and I, who ought to be the
petted minions of great capitals! It is a comic opera."

"One has to get bread or one would starve," said Blanquette pursuing her
argument. "And to get bread one must have money. If I had all the money
you would not eat bread."

"I should eat _brioches_," laughed Paragot quoting Marie Antoinette.

"You always laugh at me, Master," said Blanquette wistfully.

Paragot drew his bow across the strings.

"There is nothing in this comical universe I don't laugh at, my little
Blanquette," said he. "I am like good old Montaigne--I rather laugh than
weep, because to laugh is the more dignified."

Laripet struck a chord on the piano. Paragot joined in and played three
bars. Then he stopped short. There was not the vestige of a laugh on his
face. It was deadly white, and his eyes were those of a man who sees a
ghost.

The four bright happy beings, two ladies and two men who had just
entered the garden and at whom his stare was directed, took no notice,
but followed a bowing maître d'hôtel to a table that had been reserved
for them.

I sprang to the platform, on the edge of which I had been squatting at
Blanquette's feet.

"Are you ill, Master?"

He started. "Ill? Of course not. Pardon, Monsieur Laripet.
_Recommençons._"

He plunged into the merry tune and fiddled with all his might, as if
nothing had happened. But I saw his nostrils quivering and the sweat
running down his face into his beard.



CHAPTER VIII


WHEN _Funiculi Funiculà_ was over he sat on the wooden chair provided
for him and wiped his face. His hands shook. He beckoned me to come
near.

"Do I look too grotesque a mountebank Tomfool?" he asked in English.

He was wearing the pearl-buttoned velveteen suit whose magnificence he
had enhanced by newly purchased steel-buckled shoes and black stockings,
and to a less bigoted worshipper than me I suppose he must have looked a
mountebank Tomfool; but I only gaped at his question.

"Do I?" he repeated almost fiercely.

"You look beautiful, Master," said I.

He passed his lean fingers wearily over his eyes. "Pardon, my little
Asticot. There are things in Heaven and Earth etc. Myriads of Mysteries.
As many in the heart of man as in your Wonder Houses yonder. Get me some
brandy. Three _petits verres_ poured into a tumbler."

I went off to the restaurant and obtained the drink. When I returned
they were playing the mocking chorus that runs through "Orphée aux
Enfers."

The number over, Paragot drained the glass at one gulp. The company
broke into unusual applause. Some one shouted "_Bis!_"

"Get me some more," said he. "Do you know why I chose that tune?"

"No, Master."

"Because twenty devils entered into me and played leapfrog over one
another."

"I am very fond of that little tune. It is so gay," said Blanquette, as
if she were introducing a fresh topic of conversation.

"I detest it," said my master.

The maître d'hôtel came up and asked that the chorus should be played
again as an encore. I fetched Paragot's drink and having set it down
beside him on the platform, went round with my tambourine. When I
reached the table at which the four new comers were seated I found that
they spoke English. They were a young man in a straw hat, a young girl,
a forbidding looking man of forty with a beaky nose, and the loveliest
lady I have ever seen in my life. She had the complexion of a sea-shell.
Her eyes were the blue of glaciers, and they shone cold and steadfast;
but her lips were kind. Her black hair under the large white tulle hat
had the rare bluish tinge, looking as if cigarette smoke had been blown
through it. Small and exquisitely made she sat the princess of my boyish
dreams.

"I call it a ripping tune," cried the young girl.

"I hate it more than any other tune in the world," said the lovely lady
with a shiver.

Her voice was like a peal of bells or running water or whatever silvery
sounding things you will.

"It is very absurd to have such prejudices," said the beaky-nosed man of
forty. He spoke like a Frenchman, and like a very disagreeable
Frenchman. How dared he address my princess in that tone?

I extended my tambourine.

"_Qu'est-ce que vous désirez?_" asked the straw-hatted young man in an
accent as Britannic as the main deck of the Bellerophon.

"Anything that the ladies will kindly give me, Sir," I replied in our
native tongue.

"Hullo! English? What are you knocking about France for?"

I glanced at the lovely lady. She was crumbling bread and not taking the
least notice of me. I was piqued.

"My Master thinks it the best way to teach me philosophy, Sir," said I
politely. If I had not learned much philosophy from him I had at least
learned politeness. The lady looked up with a smile. The young girl
exclaimed that either my remark or myself--I forget which--was ripping.
I paid little heed to her. I have always disregarded the people of one
adjective; they seem poverty-stricken to one who has sunned himself in
the wealth of Paragot's epithets.

"Your master is the gentleman in the pearl buttons?" enquired the young
man.

"Yes, Sir."

"What's his name?"

"Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, Sir," said I so proudly that the lovely
princess laughed.

"I must look at him," she said turning round in her chair.

I too glanced at the familiar group on the platform: Laripet with his
back to us, working his arms and shoulders at the piano; Blanquette
seated on the other side, thrumming away at the zither on her lap;
Narcisse lolling his tongue in that cynical grin of his; and Paragot
fiddling in front, like a fiddler possessed, his clear eyes fixed on the
lady in a most uncanny stare.

When she turned again, she shivered once more. She did not look up but
went on crumbling bread. It shocked me to notice that the pink of her
sea-shell face had gone and that her fingers trembled. Then a wild
conjecture danced through my brain and I forgot my tambourine.

"You still here?" laughed the young man. "What are you waiting for?"

I started. "I beg your pardon, Sir," said I moving away. He laughed and
called me back.

"Here are two francs to buy a philosophy book."

"And here are five sous not to come and worry us again," said the older
man in French. While I was wondering why they tolerated such a
disagreeable man in the party my beautiful lady's fingers flew to the
gilt chain purse by her side. "And here are five francs because you are
English!" she exclaimed; and as she held me for a second with her eyes I
saw in them infinite depths of sadness and longing.

When I returned to the platform the piece had just been brought to an
end. Paragot poured his second brandy down his throat and sat with his
head in his hands. I shed, as usual, my takings into Blanquette's lap.
On seeing the five-franc piece her eyes equalled it in size.

"_Tiens! Cent sous!_ who gave it you?"

I explained. The most beautiful lady in the world. Paragot raised his
head and looked at me haggardly.

"Why did she give you five francs?"

"Because I was English, she said."

"Did she talk to you?"

"Yes, Master, and I have never heard anyone speak so beautifully."

Paragot made no answer, but began to tune his violin.

During the next interval my quartette left the restaurant. I ran to the
gate, and bowed as they passed by.

The young fellow gave me a friendly nod, but the lovely lady swept out
cold-eyed, looking neither to right nor left. A large two-horsed cab
with a gay awning awaited them on the quay. As my lady entered, her
skirt uplifted ever so little disclosed the most delicately shaped, tiny
foot that has ever been attached to woman, and then I felt sure.

"Those little feet so adored." The haunting phrase leaped to my brain
and I stood staring at the departing carriage athrill with excitement.

It was Joanna--lovelier than I had pictured her in my Lotus Club dreams,
more gracious than Ingonde or Chlodoswinde or any of the _belles dames
du temps jadis_ whose ballade by Maître François Villon my master had
but lately made me learn by heart and whose names were so many "sweet
symphonies." It was Joanna, "pure and ravishing as an April dawn";
Joanna beloved of Paragot in those elusive days when I could not picture
him, before he smashed his furniture with a crusader's mace and started
on his wanderings under the guidance of Henri Quatre. It was Joanna whom
he had an agonized desire to see in Madrid and whose silvery English
voice he had longed to hear. And I, Asticot, had seen her and had heard
her silvery voice. Among boys assuredly I was the most blessed.

But Paragot seemed that day of all men the most miserable, and I more
dog-like than Narcisse in my sympathy with his moods, almost lifted up
my nose and whined for woe. All my thrill died away. I felt guilty,
oddly ashamed of myself. I took a pessimistic view of life. What,
thought I, are Joannas sent into the world for, save to play havoc with
men's happiness? Maître François Villon was quite right. Samson,
Sardanapalus, David, Maître François himself, all came to grief over
Joannas. "_Bien heureux qui rien n'y a._" Happy is he who has nothing to
do with 'em.

As soon as we were free Paragot left us, and went off by himself;
whereupon I, mimetic as an ape, rejected the humble Blanquette's
invitation to take a walk with her, and strolled moodily into the town
with Narcisse at my heels. A dog fight or two and a Byronic talk with a
little towheaded flower-seller who gave me a dusty bunch of cyclamen--as
a _porte-bonheur_ she said prettily--whiled away the time until the
people began to drift out of the Wonder Houses to dress for dinner. I
lingered at the gates, going from one to the other, in the unavowed
hope, little idiot that I was, of seeing Joanna. At last, at the main
entrance to the Villa des Fleurs I caught sight of Paragot. He had
changed from the velveteens into his vagabond clothes, and was evidently
on the same errand as myself. I did not venture near, respecting his
desire for solitude, but lounged at the corner of the main street and
the road leading down to the Villa, playing with Narcisse and longing
for something to happen. You see it is not given every day to an
impressionable youngster, his brain stuffed with poetry, pictures, and
such like delusive visionary things, to tumble head first into the
romance of the actual world. For the moment the romance was at a
standstill. I longed for a further chapter. It was a pity, I reflected,
that we did not live in Merovingian times. Then Paragot and I could have
lain in wait with our horses--everyone had horses in knightly days--and
when Joanna came near, we should have killed the beaky-nosed man, and
Paragot would have swung her on his saddlebow and we should have
galloped away to his castle in the next kingdom, where Paragot, and
Joanna and I, with Blanquette to be tirewoman to our princess, would
have lived happy ever after. What I expected to get for myself, heaven
knows: it did not strike me that perennial contemplation of another's
bliss might wear out the stoutest altruism.

Then suddenly out of the door of the Villa came two ladies, one of whom
I recognised as Joanna and the other as the young girl of the luncheon
party. The façade of the villa stretches across the road and is about a
hundred yards from the corner. I saw Paragot stand rigid, and make no
sign of recognition as she passed him by, with her head up, like a proud
queen. I felt an odd pain at my heart. Why was she so cruel? Her eyes
were of the blue of glaciers, but all the rest of her face had seemed
tender and kind. I was aware, in a general way, that radiantly attired
ladies do not shake hands with ragamuffins in public places, but you
must please to remember that I no more considered Paragot a ragamuffin
than I thought Blanquette the equal of Joanna. Paragot to me was the
peer of kings.

I turned away sorrowing and sauntered up the little street that leads to
the Etablissement des Bains. I was disappointed in Joanna and did not
want to see her again. She should be punished for her cruelty. I sat
down on one of the benches on the Place, and looking at the Mairie clock
stolidly thought of supper. They made famous onion soup at the little
auberge where we lodged, and Paragot, himself a connoisseur, had
pronounced their _tripes à la mode de Caen_ superior to anything that
Mrs. Housekeeper had executed for the Lotus Club. Besides I was getting
hungry. With youth a full heart rarely compensates an empty stomach, and
now even my heart was growing empty.

Presently who should emerge into the Place but the two ladies. I sat on
my bench and watched them cross. They were evidently going up the hill
to one of the hotels behind the Etablissement. In her white dress and
white tulle hat coloured by three great roses, with her beautiful hair
and sea-shell face and swaying supple figure, she looked the incarnation
of all that was worshipful in woman. I could have knelt and prayed to
her. Why was she so cruel to my master? I regarded her with mingled
reproach and adoration. But the mixed feeling gave place to one of
amazement when I saw her separate from her companion, who continued her
way up the hill, and strike straight across the Place in my direction.

_She was coming to me._

I rose, took off my ragged hat and twirled it in my fingers, which was
the way that Paragot had taught me to be polite in France.

"I want to speak to you," she said quickly. "You are the boy with the
tambourine, aren't you?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

Paragot had threatened to shoot me if I called any young lady "Miss."

"What is the name of the--the gentleman who played the violin?"

"Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot."

"That is not his real name?"

"No, Mademoiselle," said I.

"What is it?"

"I don't know," said I. "This is a new name; he has only had it a week."

"How long have you known him?"

"A long, long time, Mademoiselle. He adopted me when I was quite small."

"You are not very big now," she said with a smile.

"I am nearly sixteen," said I proudly.

To herself she murmured, "I don't think I can be mistaken."

In a different tone she continued, "You spoke some nonsense about his
being your master and teaching you philosophy."

"It wasn't nonsense," I replied stoutly. "He teaches me everything. He
teaches me history and Shakespeare and François Villon, and painting and
Schopenhauer and the tambourine."

Her pretty lips pouted in a little gasp of astonishment as she leaned on
her long parasol and looked at me.

"You are the oddest little freak I have come across for a long time."

I smiled happily. She could have called me anything opprobrious in that
silvery voice of hers and I should have smiled. Now I come to think of
it "smile" is the wrong word. The man smiles, the boy grins. I grinned
happily.

"Has your master always played the violin in orchestras like this?"

"Oh, no, Mademoiselle," said I. "Of course not. He only began four days
ago."

"What was his employment till then?"

"Why, none," said I.

It seemed absurd for Paragot to have employment like a man behind a
shop-counter. I remembered acquaintances of my mother's who were "out of
employment" and their unspeakable vileness. Then, echo of Paragot (for
what else could I be?), I added: "We just walk about Europe for the sake
of my education. My master said I was to learn Life from the Book of the
Universe."

The lovely lady sat down.

"I believe you are nothing more nor less than an amazing little parrot.
I'm sure you speak exactly like your master."

"Oh, no, Mademoiselle," said I modestly, "I wish I could. There is no
one who can talk like him in all the world."

She gave me a long, steady, half-frightened look out of her blue eyes. I
know now that I had struck a chord of memory; that I had established
beyond question in her mind Paragot's identity with the man who had
loved her in days past; that old things sweet and terrifying surged
within her heart. Even then, holding their secret, I saw that she had
recognised Paragot.

"You must think me a very inquisitive lady," she said, with a forced
smile; "but you must forgive me. What you said this morning about your
master teaching you philosophy interested me greatly. One thing I should
like to know," and she dug at the gravel with the point of her parasol,
"and that I hardly like to ask. Is he--are you--very poor?"

"Poor?" It was a totally new idea. "Why, no, Mademoiselle; he has a
great bank in London which sends him bank-notes whenever he wants them.
I once went with him. He has heaps of money."

The lady rose. "So this going about as a mountebank is only a
masquerade," she said, with a touch of scorn.

"He did it to help Blanquette," said I.

"Blanquette?"

"The girl who plays the zither. My master has adopted her too."

"Oh, has he?" said the lady, the blue of her eyes becoming frosty again.
I dimly perceived that in mentioning Blanquette I had been indiscreet.
In what respect, I know not. I had intended my remark to be a tribute to
Paragot's wide-heartedness. She took it as if I had told her of a crime.
Women, even the loveliest of dream Joannas, are a mystifying race.
"_Bien heureux qui rien n'y a._"

"Goodbye," she said.

"Goodbye, Mademoiselle."

She must have read mortification in my face, for she turned after a step
or two, and said more kindly.

"You're not responsible, anyway." Then she paused, as if hesitating,
while I stood hat in hand, as I had done during our conversation.

"I wonder if I can trust you."

She took her purse from the bag hanging at her waist and drew out a gold
piece.

"I will give you this if you promise not to tell your Master that you
have spoken to me this afternoon."

I shrank back. Remember I had been for three years in the hourly
companionship of a man of lofty soul for all his waywardness, and he had
modelled me like wax to his liking. The gold piece was tempting. I had
never owned a gold piece in my life--and all the frost had melted from
Joanna's eyes. But I felt I should be dishonored in taking money.

"I promise without that," I said.

She put the coin back in her purse and held out her delicately gloved
hand.

"Promise with this, then," she said.

And then I knew for the first time what an exquisite sensitive thing is
a sweet, high-bred lady. Only such a one could have performed that act
of grace. She converted me into a besotted little imbecile weltering in
bliss. I would have pledged my soul's welfare to execute any
phantasmagoric behest she had chosen to ordain.

"I am leaving Aix tomorrow morning--but if you are ever in any
trouble--by the way what is your name?"

"Asticot Pradel," said I, reflecting for the first time that though
Polydore Pradel had perished and Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot reigned in
his stead, my own borrowed or invented name remained unaltered. Augustus
Smith lingered in my memory as a vague, mythical creature of no account.

Joanna smiled. "You are a little masquerader too. Well--if you are ever
in any trouble, and I can help you--remember the Comtesse de Verneuil, 7
Avenue de Messine, Paris."

This offer of friendship took my breath away. I grinned stupidly at her.
I was also puzzled.

"What is the matter?" she laughed.

"The Comtesse de Verneuil?--but you are English," I stammered.

"Yes. But my husband is French. He is the Comte de Verneuil. Remember 7
Avenue de Messine."

She nodded graciously and turned away leaving a stupefied Asticot
twirling his hat. Her husband! And I had been calling her Mademoiselle
all the time! And I had been weaving fairy tales of our riding off with
her to Paragot's castle! She was married. Her husband was the Comte de
Verneuil! Worse than that. Her husband was the disagreeable beaky-nosed
man who gave me five sous to go away.

A sense of desolation, disaster, disillusionment overwhelmed me. I sat
on the bench and burst out crying and Narcisse jumped up and licked my
face.



CHAPTER IX


IT was nearly midnight when Paragot returned to our inn on the outskirts
of the town. He reeled up to the doorstep where I sat in the moonlight
awaiting his return.

"Why aren't you in bed?"

"It was too hot and I couldn't sleep, Master," said I. As a matter of
fact I had been dismally failing to compose a poem on Joanna after the
style of Maître François Villon. Just as youthful dramatists begin with
a five act tragedy, so do youthful poets begin with a double ballade. In
order to eke out the slender stock of rhymes to Joanna, I had to drag in
Indianna which somehow didn't fit. I remember also that she showered her
favours like manna, which was not very original.

Paragot seated himself heavily by my side.

"The moon has a baleful influence, my son," said he in a thick voice.
"And you'll come under it if you sit too long beneath its effulgence.
That's what has happened to me. It makes one talk unmentionable
imbecility."

He just missed concertina-ing the last two words, and looked at me with
an air of solemn triumph.

"It isn't the Man in the Moon's fault, my little Asticot," he continued.
"I've been having a very interesting conversation with him. He is a most
polite fellow. He said if I would go up and join him he would make room
for me. It's all a lie, you know, about his having been sent there for
gathering sticks on a Sunday. He went of his own accord, because it was
the only place where he could be four thousand miles away from any
woman. Think of it, little Asticot of my heart. There are lots of lies
told about the moon, he says. He looks down on the earth and sees all of
us little worms wriggling in and out and over one another and thinking
ourselves so important and he cracks his sides with laughing; and your
bald-headed idiots with spyglasses take the cracks for mountain ranges
and volcanoes. I'm going to live in the moon, away from female feminine
women, and if you are good my son, you shall come too."

I explained to him as delicately as I could that I should regard such a
change rather as a punishment than as a reward. He broke into a laugh.

"You too--with the milk of the feeding-bottle still wet on your lips?
The trail of the petticoat's over us all! What has been putting the sex
feminine into your little turnip-head? Have you fallen in love with
Blanquette?"

"No, Master," said I. "When I fall in love it will be with a very
beautiful lady."

Paragot pointed upwards. "I see another crack in my friend's sides. We
all fall in love with beautiful ladies, my poor Asticot, one after the
other, plunging into destruction with the comic sheep-headedness of the
muttons of Panurge. Another woolly one over? Ho! ho! laughs the man in
the moon, and crack go his sides."

The door opened behind us and the proprietor of the auberge appeared on
the threshold.

"Give me half a litre of red wine, Monsieur Bonnivard," cried Paragot.
"I am the descendant of Maître Jehan Cotard whose throat was so dry that
in this world he was never known to spit."

"Bien, Monsieur," said the _patron_.

Paragot filled his porcelain pipe and lit it with clumsy fingers, and
did not speak till his wine was brought.

"My son, we are leaving Aix the first thing in the morning."

I started up in alarm. We had not finished our engagement at the
Restaurant du Lac.

"I care no more for the Restaurant du Lac than for the rest of the idiot
universe," he declared.

"But Blanquette--it would break her heart."

"All women's hearts can be mended for twopence."

"And men's?"

"They have to go about with them broken, my son, and the pieces clank
and jangle and chink and jingle inside like a crate of broken crockery.
We leave Aix tomorrow."

"But Master," I cried, "there is no necessity."

"What do you mean?"

"She is leaving Aix herself tomorrow."

"She!" he shouted, quite sober for the moment. "Who the devil do you
mean by 'she'?"

I upbraided myself for a vain idiot. Here was I on the point of breaking
my oath sworn on Joanna's hand. I felt ashamed and frightened. He
grasped my shoulder roughly.

"Who do you mean by 'she'? Tell me."

"The Lady of the Lake, Master," said I.

He looked at me for a moment keenly, then relaxed his grip and shrugged
his shoulders with the ghost of a laugh.

"If you see holes in ladders in this perspicacious fashion you'll have
to forsake the paths of art for the higher walks of the Prefecture of
Police."

He puffed silently at his pipe for a few moments and then turning his
head away asked me in a low voice:

"How can you know that she is leaving tomorrow?"

I lied for the first time to Paragot.

"I overheard her say so while I was waiting with the tambourine."

"Sure?"

"Quite sure."

This seemed to satisfy him, to my great relief. How my poor little oath
would have fared under cross examination I don't know. At any rate
honour was saved. Paragot laid aside his pipe and looked wistfully into
the past over his wine bowl.

"The Lady of the Lake," he murmured. "I have called her many things good
and bad in my time, but never that. You are a genius, my little
Asticot."

He finished his wine slowly, holding the bowl in both hands. The moon
smiled at us in a friendly way, sailing high over the mountains. There
entered my head the novel reflection that he was smiling on all men
alike, the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. He was smiling
just the same on Joanna's beaky-nosed husband.

Her husband! Something caught at my heart. Did Paragot know? I debated
anxiously in my mind whether I should impart the disastrous information.
If he knew that she was a married woman he would put foolish thoughts
out of his head, for it was only in Merovingian and such like romantic
epochs that men loved other men's wives. I touched him timidly on the
arm.

"Master,--I overheard something else."

"Did you?"

"She is married, and that is her husband."

"Did he take off his hat?"

"No, Master."

"He is a scaly-headed vulture," said Paragot dreamily.

"He only gave me five sous," said I, relieved and yet disappointed at
finding that my disclosure produced no agitation.

Paragot fumbled in his pocket. "We will not batten on his charity," said
he, and he cast three or four coppers into the silent street. They
crashed, rolled and fell over with little chinks. Narcisse who had
hitherto been asleep trotted out and sniffed at them. Paragot laughed;
then checked himself, and holding up a long-nailed forefinger looked at
me with an air of awful solemnity.

"Listen to the wisdom of Paragot. There is not a woman worth a clean man
that does not marry a scaly-headed vulture."

He murmured an incoherence or two, and there was then a long silence.
Presently his head knocked sharply against the lintel. I roused him.

"Master, it won't be good for us to sit any longer in the moonshine."

He turned a glazed look on me. "Minerva's Owl," said he, "I am quite
aware of it."

He rose and lumbered into the inn, and I, having guided him up the
narrow staircase to his room, descended to my bunk in a corner of the
tiny salon. My sleeping arrangements were always sketchy.

In the morning when I questioned him as to our departure from Aix, he
affected not to understand, and told me that I had been dreaming and
that the moonshine had affected my brain.

"Consider, my son," said he, "that when I returned last night, I found
you fast asleep on the doorstep, and you never woke up till this
morning."

From this I gathered that for the second time he had dosed the book of
his life to my prying though innocent eyes. I also learned the peculiar
difference between Philip drunk and Philip sober.

When our engagement at Aix was at an end, the proprietor of the
restaurant desired to renew it, but Paragot declined. The sick violinist
whom we had replaced had recovered and Paragot had seen him on the quay
looking through the railings with the hungry eyes of a sort of musical
Enoch Arden. Blanquette had some little difficulty in preventing him
from rushing out there and then and delivering his fiddle into the
other's hands. It was necessary to be reasonable, she said.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" he cried, "if I were reasonable I should be lost.
Reason would set me down in Paris with gloves and an umbrella. Reason
would implant a sunny smile on my face above the red ribbon of the
Legion of Honour. It would marry me to the daughter of one of my
_confrères_ at the Académie des Beaux Arts. It would make me procreate
my species, _cré nom de Dieu_! It would make me send you and Asticot and
Narcisse to the devil. If I were reasonable I should not be Paragot. The
man who lives according to reason has the heart of a sewing-machine."

But out of regard for Blanquette he served his time faithfully at the
Restaurant du Lac, and reconciled his conscience with reason by giving
the hungry violinist his own share of the takings. It was only when
Blanquette suggested the further exploitation of Aix that he showed his
Gascon obduracy. If there was one place in the world where the soul
sickened and festered it was Aix-les-Bains. Mammon was King thereof and
Astarte Queen. He was going to fiddle no more for sons of Belial and
daughters of Aholah. He had set out to travel to the Heart of Truth, and
the way thither did not lead through the Inner Shrine of Dagon and
Astaroth. Blanquette did not in the least know what he was talking
about, and I only had a vague glimmer of his meaning. But I see now that
his sensitive nature chafed at the false position. Among the simple
village folk he was a personality, compelling awe and admiration. Among
the idlers of Aix, whom in his loftiness he despised, he was but the
fiddling mountebank to whom any greasy wallower in riches could cast a
disdainful franc.

So once more we took to the high road, and Paragot threw off the
depressing burden of Mammon (Joanna) and became his irresponsible self
again.

I have but confused memories of our fantastic journeyings. Stretches of
long white road and blazing sun. Laughing valleys and corn fields and
white farmsteads among the trees. Now and then a village fête or wedding
at which we played to the enthusiasm of the sober vested peasantry.
Nights passed in barns, deserted byres, on the floor of cottages and
infinitesimal cafés. Hours of idleness by the wayside after the midday
meal, when the four of us sat round the fare provided by Blanquette,
black bread, cheese, charcuterie and the eternal bottle of thin wine. It
was rough, but there was plenty. Paragot saw to that, in spite of
Blanquette's economical endeavours. Sometimes he would sleep while she
and I chatted in low voices so as not to wake him. She told me of her
wanderings with the old man, the hardness of her former life. Often she
had cried herself to sleep for hunger, shivering in wet rags the long
night through. Now it was all changed: she ate too much and was getting
as fat as a pig. Did I not think so? _Voilà!_ In her artless way she
guided my finger into her waistband and then swelled herself out like
the frog in the fable to prove the increase in her girth. She spoke in
awestricken whispers of the Master himself. Save that he was utterly
kind, impulsive, generous, boastful, and according to her untrained ear
a violinist of the first quality, she knew not what manner of man he
was. She had enough imagination to feel vaguely that he had dropped from
vast spaces into her narrow world. But he was a mystery.

Once, the previous summer, as she was resting by the roadside with the
old man, even as we were doing then, an amiable person, she told me,
with easel and stool and paint-box, came along and requested their
permission to make an oil sketch of them. While he painted he conversed,
telling them of Sicily whither he was going and of Paris whence he came.
In a dim way she associated him with Paragot. The two had the same trick
of voice and manner, and held unusual views as to the value of five
francs. But the amiable painter had been a gentleman elegantly dressed,
such as she saw in the large towns driving in cabs and consuming drinks
in expensive cafés, whereas the Master was attired like a peasant and
slept in barns and did everything that the elegantly dressed gentlemen
in cafés did not do. At all events she was penetrated with the
consciousness of a loftier mind and spirit, and she contented herself
even as I did with being his devoted slave.

Often too she spoke of her own ambitions. If she were rich she would
have a little house of her own. Perhaps for company she would like
someone to stay with her. She would keep it so clean, and would mend all
the linen, and do the cooking, and save to go to market, would never
leave it from one year's end to the other. A good sleek cat to curl up
by the fireside would complete her felicity.

"But Blanquette!" I would cry. "The sun and the stars and the high road
and the smell of spring and the fields and the freedom of this life--you
would miss them."

"_J'aime le ménage, moi_," she would reply, shaking her head.

Of all persons I have ever met the least imbued with the vagabond
instinct was the professional vagabond Blanquette de Veau.

Sometimes, instead of sleeping, Paragot would talk to us from the
curious store of his learning, always bent on my education and desirous
too of improving the mind of Blanquette. Sometimes it was Blanquette who
slept, Narcisse huddled up against her, while Paragot and I read our
tattered books, or sketched, or discussed the theme which I had written
overnight as my evening task. It was an odd school; but though I could
not have passed any examination held by the sons of men, I verily
believe I had a wider culture, in the truest sense of the word, than
most youths of my age. I craved it, it is true, and I drank from an
inexhaustible source; but few men have the power of directing that
source so as to supply the soul's need of a boy of sixteen.

Well, well--I suppose Allah Paragot is great and Mahomet Asticot is his
prophet.

       *       *       *       *       *

We wandered and fiddled and zithered and tambourined through France
till the chills and rains of autumn rendered our vagabondage less merry.
The end of October found us fulfilling a week's engagement at a
brasserie on the outskirts of Tours. Two rooms over a stable and a
manger in an empty stall below were assigned to us; and every night we
crept to our resting places wearied to death by the evening's work.

I have always found performance on a musical instrument exhausting in
itself: the tambourine, for instance, calls for considerable physical
energy; but when the instrument, tambourine, violin or zither, is
practised for several hours in a little stuffy room filled with three or
four dozen obviously unwashed humans, reeking with bad tobacco and worse
absinthe, and pervaded by the ghosts of inferior meals, it becomes more
penitential than the treadmill. A dog's life, said Paragot. Whereat
Narcisse sniffed. It was not at all the life for a philosopher's dog,
said he.

On the morning of the last day of our engagement, Blanquette entered
Paragot's bedchamber as usual, with the bowls of coffee and hunks of
coarse bread that formed our early meal. I had risen from my manger and
crept into Paragot's room for warmth, and while he slept I sat on the
floor by the window reading a book. As for Blanquette she had dressed
and eaten long before and had helped the servant of the café to sweep
and wash the tables and make the coffee for the household. It was not in
her peasant's nature to be abed, which, now I come to think of it, must
be a characteristic of the artistic temperament. Paragot loved it. He
only woke when Blanquette brought him his coffee. Ordinarily he would
remonstrate with picturesque oaths at being aroused from his slumbers,
and having taken the coffee from her hands, would dismiss her with a
laugh. He observed the most rigid propriety in his relations with
Blanquette. But this morning he directed her to remain.

"Sit down, my child; I have to speak to you."

As there was no chair or stool in the uncomfortable room--it had lean-to
walls and bare dirty boards and contained only the bed and a table--she
sat obediently at the foot of the bed next to Narcisse and folded her
hands in her lap. Paragot broke his bread into his coffee and fed
himself with the sops by means of a battered table-spoon. When he had
swallowed two or three mouthfuls he addressed her.

"My good Blanquette, I have been wandering through the world for many
years in search of the springs of Life. I do not find them by scraping
catgut in the Café Brasserie Dubois."

"It would be better to go to Orléans," said Blanquette. "We were at the
Café de la Couronne there last winter and I danced."

"Not even your dancing at Orléans would help me in my quest," said he.

"I don't understand," murmured Blanquette looking at him helplessly.

"Have the kindness," said he, pointing to the table, "to smash that
confounded violin into a thousand pieces."

"_Mon Dieu!_ What is the matter?" cried Blanquette.

"It does not please me."

"I know it is not a good one," said Blanquette. "We will save money
until we can buy a better."

"I would execrate it were it a Stradivarius," said he, his mouth full of
sop. "Asticot," he called, "don't you loathe your tambourine?"

"Yes, Master," I replied from the floor.

"Do you love playing the zither?"

"But no, Maître," said Blanquette.

"Why then," said my master, "should we pursue a career which is equally
abominable to the three of us? We are not slaves, _nom d'un chien_!"

"We must work," said Blanquette, "or what would become of us?"

Paragot finished his coffee and bread and handed the bowl to Blanquette
who nursed it in her lap, while he settled himself snugly beneath the
bedclothes. The autumn rain beat against the dirty little window and the
wind howled through chinks and crevices, filling the room with cold damp
air. I drew the old blanket which I had brought from my manger-bed
closer round my shoulders. Blanquette with her peasant's indifference to
change of temperature sat unconcerned in her thin cotton dress.

"But what will become of us?" she repeated.

"I shall continue to exist," said he.

"But I, what shall I do?"

"You can fill my porcelain pipe, and let me think," replied Paragot.

She rose in her calm obedient way and, having carried out his orders,
reseated herself at the foot of the bed.

"You are the most patient creature alive," said he, "otherwise you would
not be contented to go on playing the zither, which is not a very
exhilarating instrument, my little Blanquette. I am not patient, and I
am not going to play the violin again for a million years after tonight,
and the violin is superior to the zither."

Blanquette regarded him uncomprehending.

"If I were a king I would live in a palace and you should be my
housekeeper. But as I am a ragged vagabond too idle to work, I am
puzzled as to the disposal of you."

She grew very white and rose to her feet.

"I understand. You are driving me away. If it is your desire I will earn
my living alone. _Je ne vous serai pas sur le dos._"

For all her vulgar asseveration that she would not be on his back, her
manner held a dignity which touched him. He held out his hand.

"But I don't drive you away, little idiot," he laughed. "On the
contrary. You are like Asticot and Narcisse. You belong to me. But
Asticot is going to learn how to become an artist, and Narcisse when he
is bored can hunt for fleas. You are a young woman; things must arrange
themselves differently. But how? _Voilà tout!_"

"It is very simple," said Blanquette.

"How, simple?"

"_Dame!_ I can work for you and Asticot."

"The devil!" cried Paragot.

"But yes," she went on earnestly. "I know that men are men, and
sometimes they do not like to work. It happens very often. _Tiens! mon
maître_, I am alone, all that is most alone. You are the only friends I
have in the world, you and Asticot. You have been kinder to me than any
one I have ever met. I put you in my prayers every night. It is a very
little thing that I should work for you, if it fatigues you to scrape
the fiddle in these holes of cabarets. It is true. True as the _bon
Dieu_. I would tear myself into four pieces for you. _Je suis brave
fille_, and I can work. But no!" she cried, looking deep into his eyes.
"You can't refuse. It is not possible."

"Yes, I refuse," said Paragot.

He had turned on his side, face on palm, elbow on pillow, had regarded
her sternly as she spoke. I saw that he was very angry.

"For what do you take me, little imbecile? Do you know that you insult
me? I to be supported by a woman? _Nom de Dieu de Dieu!_"

His ire blazed up suddenly. He cursed, scolded, boasted all in a breath.
Blanquette looked at him terrified. She could not understand. Great
tears rolled down her cheeks.

"But I have made you angry," she wailed.

The scornful spurning of her devotion hurt her less than the sense of
having caused his wrath. The primitive savage feminine is not
complicated by over-subtlety of feeling. As soon as she could speak she
broke into repentant protestation. She had not meant to anger him. She
had spoken from her heart. She was so ignorant. She would tear herself
into four pieces for him. She was _brave fille_. She was alone and he
was her only friend. He must forgive her.

I, feeling monstrously tearful, jumped to my feet.

"Yes, Master, forgive her."

He burst out laughing. "Oh what three beautiful fools we are! Blanquette
to think of supporting two hulking men, I to be angry, and Asticot to
plead tragically as if I were a tyrant about to cut off her head. My
little Blanquette, you have touched my heart, and who touches the heart
of Paragot can eat Paragot's legs and liver if he is hungry and drink
his blood if he is thirsty. I will remember it all my life, and if you
will bring me my déjeuner I will stay in bed till this afternoon."

"Then I am not to leave you?" she asked, somewhat bewildered.

"Good heavens no!" he cried. "Because I am sick of fiddling do you
suppose I am going to send you adrift? We shall settle down for the
winter. Some capital. Which one would you like, Asticot?"

"Buda-Pesth," said I at random.

"Very well," said Paragot, "the day after tomorrow we start for
Buda-Pesth. Now let me go to sleep."

We took exactly two months getting to Buda-Pesth. The only incident of
our journey which I clearly remember is a week's sojourn at the farm of
La Haye near Chartres where we had carted manure, and where we renewed
our acquaintance with Monsieur and Madame Dubosc.



CHAPTER X


IN Buda-Pesth three things happened.

First, Paragot slipped in the street and broke his ankle bone, so that
he lay seven weeks in hospital, during which time Blanquette and I and
Narcisse lived like sparrows on the housetops, dazed by the
incomprehensibilities of the strange city.

Secondly, Paragot's aunt, his mother's sister, died intestate leaving a
small sum of money which he inherited as her nearest surviving relative.

Thirdly, Paragot fell into the arms of Theodor Izelin the painter, an
old friend of Paris student days.

The consequences of the first accident, though not immediate, were
lasting. Paragot walked for ever afterwards with a slight limp, and his
tramps along the high-roads of Europe had to be abandoned.

The consequence of the second was that Paragot went to London. Some
legal formality, the establishment of identity or what not, necessitated
his presence. I daresay he could have arranged matters through consuls
and lawyers and such-like folk, but Paragot who was childishly simple in
business matters obeyed the summons to London without question.

As a consequence of the third I became an inmate of the house of Theodor
Izelin.

It was all very bewildering.

It was arranged that during Paragot's absence in England I should board
with Izelin, Blanquette with Izelin's elderly model, a lady of
unimpeachable respectability and a rough and ready acquaintance with the
French language, and that Narcisse should alternate between the two
establishments. Paragot's business concluded, he would return to
Buda-Pesth, collect us and go whither the wind might drift him. I was
provided with a respectable outfit and with detailed instructions as to
correct behaviour in a lady's house. Theodor Izelin's wife was a
charming woman.

Everything was arranged; but who could reckon on Paragot?

On the night before his departure--indeed it must have been two or three
in the morning--Paragot burst into my little attic bedroom, candle in
hand, and before I had time to rub my startled eyes, sat down on the bed
and began to speak.

"My son," said he, "I have had an inspiration!"

Who but Paragot would have awakened a boy at two or three in the morning
to announce an inspiration? And who but Paragot would alter the course
of human lives on the flash of an impulse?

"It came," he cried, "while I was supping with Izelin. I told him. I
worked it all out. He agreed. So it is settled."

"What, Master?" I asked, sitting up. His slouch felt hat and his swarthy
bearded face, his glittering eyes and the candle on his knees gave him
the air of an excited Guy Fawkes.

"Your career, my son. The money I am going to collect in London shall be
devoted to your education. You shall learn to paint, infant Raphael and
Izelin shall teach you. And you shall learn the manners of a gentleman,
and Madame Izelin shall teach you. And you shall learn what it is to
have a heart, and if you care a hang for Paragot two years' separation
shall teach you."

"Two years!" I cried aghast. "But master I can't live two years here
without you!"

"We find we can live without a devil of a lot of things when we have to,
my son. When I smashed my furniture with the crusader's mace I thought I
could not live anywhere without--something. But here I am as alive as a
dragon-fly."

He went on talking. It was for my good. His broken ankle bone had
compelled him to resign his peripatetic tutorship in the University of
the Universe. In a narrower Academy he would be but a poor instructor.
If he had taught me to speak the truth and despise lies and shams, and
to love pictures and music and cathedrals and books and trees and all
beautiful things, _nom de Dieu!_ he had accomplished his mission. It was
time for other influences. When an inspiration such as tonight's came to
him he took it as a command from a Higher Power (I am convinced that he
believed it), against which he was powerless.

"Providence ordains that you stay here with the Izelins. Afterwards you
shall go to Janot's studio in Paris. In the meantime you can attend
classes in the humanities at Buda-Pesth."

"I can't understand the beastly language!" I grumbled.

"You will learn it, my son."

"No one ever speaks it out of Hungary," I contended.

"My son," said he, "the value of a man is often measured by his useless
and fantastic attainments."

Then the candle end sputtered out and we were in darkness. Paragot bade
me good night, and left me to a mingled sense of burned candle grease
and desolation.

He departed the next day. Blanquette and I with a dejected Narcisse at
our heels, walked back from the railway station to the hotel, where
losing all sense of manly dignity I broke down crying and Blanquette put
her arm round my neck and comforted me motherwise.

Two months afterwards Paragot wrote to Blanquette to join him in Paris,
and when the flutter of her wet handkerchief from the railway carriage
window became no longer visible, then indeed I felt myself to be a
stranger in a strange land.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two years! I can remember even now their endless heartache. The Izelins
were kind; Madame Izelin, a refined Hungarian lady, became my staunch
friend as well as my instructress in manners; my life teemed with
interests, and I worked like a little maniac; but all the time I longed
for Paragot. Had it not been for his letters I should have scented my
way back to him like a dog, across Europe. Ah those letters of
Paragot--I have them still--what a treasury they are of grotesque
fantasy and philosophic wisdom! They gave me but little news of his
doings. He had settled down in Paris with Blanquette as his housekeeper.
His floridly anathematised ankle kept him hobbling about the streets
while his heart was chasing butterflies over the fields. He had founded
a coenaculum for the cultivation of the Higher Conversation at the Café
Delphine. He had taken up Persian and was saturating himself with Hafiz
and Firdusi. His health was good. Indeed he was a man of iron
constitution.

Blanquette now and then supplemented these meagre details of objective
life. The master had taken a _bel appartement_. There were curtains to
his bed. Food was dear in Paris. They had been to Fontainebleau.
Narcisse had stolen the sausages of the concierge. The Master was always
talking of me and of the great future for which I was destined. But when
I became famous I was not to forget my little Blanquette. I see the
sprawling mis-spelt words now: "_Il ne fot jamés oublié ta petite
Blanquette_."

As if I could ever forget her!

I arrived in Paris one evening a day or two earlier than I was expected.
It had been ordained by Paragot that I should break my journey at
Berlin, in order to visit that capital, but affection tugged at my
heart-strings and compelled me to travel straight through from
Buda-Pesth. It was Paragot and Blanquette and Narcisse that I wanted to
see and not Berlin.

Yet when I stepped out of the train on to the Paris platform, I was
conscious for the first time of development. I was decently attired. I
had a bag filled with the garments of respectability. I had money in my
pocket, also a packet of cigarettes. A porter took my luggage and
enquired in the third person whether Monsieur desired a cab. The
temptation was too great for eighteen. I took the cab in a lordly way
and drove to No. 11 Rue des Saladiers where Paragot had his "bel
appartement." And with the anticipatory throb of joy at beholding my
beloved Master was mingled a thrill of vain-glorious happiness. Asticot
in a cab! It was absurd, and yet it seemed to fall within the divine
fitness of things.

The cab stopped in a narrow street. I had an impression of tall houses
looking fantastically dilapidated in the dim gas-light, of little shops
on the ground floor, and of little murky gateways leading to the
habitations above. Beside the gateway of No. 11 was a small workman's
drinking shop, sometimes called in Paris a _zinc_ on account of the
polished zinc bar which is its principal feature. Untidy, slouching
people filled the street.

Directed by the concierge to the _cinquième à gauche_, I mounted narrow,
evil smelling, badly lighted stairs, and rang at the designated door. It
opened; Blanquette appeared with a lamp in her hand.

"_Monsieur désire?_"

"_Mais c'est moi, Blanquette._"

In another minute she had ushered me in, set down the lamp and was
hugging me in her strong young arms.

"But my little Asticot, I did not know you. You have changed. You are no
longer the same. _Tu es tout à fait monsieur!_ How proud the Master will
be."

"Where is he?"

Alas, the Master did not expect me to-day and was at the Café Delphine.
She would go straightway and tell him. I must be tired and hungry. She
would get me something to eat. But who would have thought I should have
come back a _monsieur_! How I had grown! I must see the _appartement_.
This was the salon.

I looked around me for the first time. Nothing in it save the
rickettiness of a faded rep suite arranged primly around the walls, and
a few bookshelves stuffed with tattered volumes suggested Paragot. The
round centre table, covered with American cloth, and the polished floor
were spotless. Cheap print curtains adorned the windows and a cage
containing a canary hung between them. Three or four oleographs--one a
portrait of Garibaldi--in gilt frames formed the artistic decoration.

"It was I who chose the pictures," said Blanquette proudly.

She opened a door and disclosed the sleeping chamber of the Master, very
bare, but very clean. Another door led into the kitchen--a slip of a
place but glistening like the machine room of a man-of-war.

"I have a bedroom upstairs, and there is one also for you which the
Master has taken. Come and I will show you."

We mounted to the attics and I was duly installed.

"I would have put some flowers if I had known you were coming," said
Blanquette.

We went down again and she prepared food for me, her plain face beaming
as she talked. She was entirely happy. No one so perfect as the Master
had ever been the head of a household. Of course he was untidy. But such
was the nature of men. If he did not make stains on the floor with muddy
boots and lumps of meat thrown to Narcisse, and litter the rooms with
clothes and tobacco and books, what occupation would there be for a
housekeeper? As it was she worked from morning to night. And the result;
was it not neat and clean and beautiful? Ah! she was happy not to be
playing the zither in _brasseries_. All her dreams were realised. She
had a _ménage_. And she had the Master to serve. Now would she fetch him
from the Café Delphine.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour afterwards he strode into the room, followed by Blanquette
and Narcisse. He spoke in French and embraced me French fashion. Then he
cried out in English and wrung me by the hand. He was almost as excited
as Narcisse who leaped and barked frantically.

"It is good to have him back, eh Blanquette?"

"_Oui, Maître._ He does not know how sad it has been without him."

Blanquette smiled, wept and removed the remains of my supper. Then she
set on the table glasses and a bottle of _tisane_ they had bought on the
way home. We drank the sour sweet champagne as if it were liquid gold
and clinked glasses, and with Narcisse all talked and barked together.
It was a glad home-coming.

Paragot had changed very little. The hair on his temple was beginning to
turn grey and his sallow cheeks were thinner. But he was the same hairy
unkempt creature of prodigious finger nails and disreputable garments,
still full of strange oaths and picturesque fancy, and still smoking his
pipe with the porcelain bowl.

Presently Blanquette retired to bed and Paragot and I talked far into
the night. Before we separated, with a comprehensive wave of the hand he
indicated the primly set furniture and polished floor.

"Did you ever behold such exquisite discomfort?"

Poor Blanquette!



CHAPTER XI


HOW far away it all seems; Paris; the Rue des Saladiers: the _atelier_
Janot where the illustrious painter called us his children and handed us
the sacred torch of his art for us to transmit, could we but keep it
aflame, to succeeding generations; the Café Delphine, with Madame Boin,
fat, pink, urbane, her hair a miracle of perrukery, enthroned behind the
counter; my dear Master, Paragot, himself! How far away! It is not good
to live to a hundred and fifty. The backward vista down the years is too
frighteningly long.

I found Paragot established as the Dictator of the Café Delphine. No one
seemed to question his position. He ruled there autocratically, having
instituted sundry ordinances disobedience to which had exile as its
penalty. The most generous of creatures, he had nevertheless ordained
that as Dictator he should go scot-free. To have declined to pay for his
absinthe or _choucroute_ would have closed the Café Delphine in a
student's face. He had a prescriptive right to the table under the lee
of Madame Boin's counter, and the peg behind him was sacred to his green
hat. To the students he was a mystery. No one knew where he lived, how
he subsisted, what he had been. Various rumours filled the _Quartier_.
According to one he was a Russian Nihilist escaped from Siberia.
Another, and one nearer the mark, credited him with being a kind of Rip
van Winkle revisiting old student scenes after a twenty years' slumber.
He seemed to pass his life between the Luxembourg Gardens, the Pont
Neuf and the Café Delphine. "Paris," he used to say, "it is the Boul'
Mich'!" Although he would turn to the absolute stranger who had been
brought as a privilege to his table and say, using the familiar second
person singular, "Buy me an evening paper," or addressing the company at
large, "Somebody is going to offer me an absinthe," and promptly order
it, he was never known to borrow money.

This eccentricity vexed the soul of the _Quartier_, where the chief use
of money is to be borrowed. To me the idea of Paragot asking needy
youngsters for the loan of five francs was exquisitely ludicrous; I am
only setting down the impression of the _Quartier_ regarding him. Not
only did he never borrow but sometimes gave whole francs in charity. One
evening an unseemly quarrel having arisen between two law-students from
Auvergne (the Boeotia of France) and the waiter as to an alleged
overcharge of two sous, Paragot arose in wrath, and dashing a louis on
the table with a "_Hercule paie-toi_," stalked majestically out of the
Café. A deputation waited on him next day with the object of refunding
the twenty francs. He refused (naturally) to take a penny. It would be a
lesson to them, said he, and they meekly accepted the rebuke.

"But what did you study here, before you went to sleep?" an impudent
believer in the Rip van Winkle theory once asked him.

"The lost arts of discretion and good manners, _mon petit_," retorted
Paragot, with a flash of his blue eyes which scorched the offender.

The students paid his score willingly, for in his talk they had full
value for their money. I found the Café Delphine a Lotus Club, with a
difference. Instead of being the scullion I was a member, and took my
seat with the rest, and, though none suspected it, paid for Paragot's
drinks with Paragot's money. Our real relations were never divulged. It
would affect both our positions, said he. To explain our friendship, it
was only necessary to say that we had met at Buda-Pesth where I had been
sent to study with the famous Izelin, who was a friend of Paragot's.

"My son," said he, "the fact of your being an Englishman who has studied
in Buda-Pesth and speaks French like a Frenchman will entitle you to
respect in the _Quartier_. Your previous acquaintance with me, on which
you need not insist too much, will bring you distinction."

And so it turned out. I felt that around me also hung a little air of
mystery, which was by no means unprofitable or unpleasant. To avoid
complications, however, and also in order that I should have the freedom
befitting my man's estate and my true education in the _Quartier_,
Paragot threw me out of the nest in the Rue des Saladiers, and assigning
to me a fixed allowance bade me seek my own shelter and make my way in
the world.

I made it as best I could, and the months went on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Why I should have been dreaming outside the Hôtel Bristol that
afternoon, I cannot remember. If to Paragot Paris was the Boulevard
Saint-Michel, to me it spread itself a vaster fairyland through which I
loved to wander, and before whose magnificences I loved to dream. Why
not dream therefore in the Place Vendôme? Surely my aspirations in those
days soared as high as the Column, and surely the student's garb
(beloved and ordained by Paragot)--the mushroom-shaped cap, the tight
ankled, tight throated velveteens--rendered any eccentricity a
commonplace. Early Spring too was in the air, which encourages the young
visionary. Spruce young men and tripping _modistes_ with bandboxes under
their arms and the sun glinting over their trim bare heads hurried along
through the traffic across the Place and landed on the pavement by my
side. I must own to have been not unaffected by the tripping milliners.
Why should they not weave themselves too into a painter lad's spring
visions?

Suddenly a lady--of so radiant a loveliness as to send _modistes_
packing from my head--emerged from the Hôtel Bristol and crossed the
broad pavement to a waiting victoria. She had eyes like the blue of
glaciers and the tenderest mouth in the world. She glanced at me. A
floppy picturesque Paris student, lounging springlike in the Place
Vendôme, is worth a fair lady's glance of curiosity. I raised my cap.
She glanced at me again, haughtily; then again, puzzled; then stopped.

"If I don't know you, you are a very ill-bred young man to have saluted
me," she said in French. "But I think I have seen you before."

"If I had not met you before I should not have bowed. You are the
Comtesse de Verneuil," said I in English, very boyishly and eagerly. The
spring and the sight of Joanna had sent the blood into my pasty cheeks.

"I once played the tambourine at Aix," I added.

She grew suddenly pale, put her hand to her heart and clutched at a
bunch of Parma violets she was wearing. They fell to the ground.

"No, no, it is nothing," she said, as I stepped forward. "Only a slight
shock. I remember you perfectly. You said your name was Asticot. I
asked you to come and see me. Why haven't you?"

"You said I might come if I were in want. But thanks to my dear Master I
am not." I picked up the violets.

"Your master?" She looked relieved, and thanked me with a smile for the
flowers. "He is well? He is with you in Paris? Is he still playing the
violin?"

"He is well," said I. "He is in Paris, but he only plays the violin at
home when, as he says, he wants to have a conversation with his soul."

The frost melted from her eyes and they smiled at me.

"You have caught his trick of talking."

"You once called me an amazing parrot, Madame," said I. "It is quite
true."

"In the meantime," said she, "we can't stand in the Place Vendôme for
ever. Come for a drive and we can talk in the carriage."

"In the----" I gasped stupefied, pointing to the victoria.

"Why not?" she laughed. "Do you think it's dangerous?"

"No," said I, "but----"

But she was already in the carriage; and as I stepped in beside her I
noted the tips of her little feet so adored by Paragot.

"I'm glad you're English," she remarked, arranging the rug. "A young
Frenchman would have replied with the obvious gallantry. I think the
young Englishman rather despises that kind of obviousness."

The coachman turned on his seat and asked whither he should drive Madame
la Comtesse.

"Anywhere. I don't know"--then desperately, "Drive to the
fortifications. Where the fortifications are I haven't the remotest
idea. I believe they are a kind of pleasure resort for people who want
to get murdered. You hear of them in the papers. We'll cross the river,"
she said to the coachman.

We started, drove down the Rue Castiglione, along the Rue de Rivoli,
struck off by the Louvre and over the Pont Neuf. Standing in
conversation with Joanna, I had the gutter urchin's confidence of the
pavement, the impudence of the street. Seated beside Madame la Comtesse
de Verneuil in an elegant victoria I was as dumb as a fish, until her
graciousness set me more at my ease. As we passed through the _Quartier_
I trembled lest any of my fellow students should see me. "_Asticot avec
une femme du monde chic! Il court les bonnes fortunes ce sacré petit
diable. Ou l'as-tu pêchée?_" I shivered at their imagined ribaldries.
And all the time I was athrill with pride and joy--suffused therewith
into imbecility. Verily I must be a _monsieur_ to drive with Countesses!
And verily it must be fairyland for Asticot to be driving in Joanna's
carriage.

"That is Henri Quatre," said she pointing to the statue as we crossed
the bridge.

"It was the first thing my Master brought me to see in Paris--years
ago," I said, with the very young's curious mis-realisation of time. "He
is very fond of Henri Quatre."

"Why?" she asked.

I told her vaguely the story of the crusader's mace. She listened with a
somewhat startled interest.

"I believe your Master is mad," she remarked. "Indeed," she added after
a pause, "I believe everyone is mad. I'm mad. You're mad."

"Oh, I am not," I cried warmly.

"You must be to set up a human god and worship him as you do your
Master. You are the maddest of all of us, Mr. Asticot."

A touch of light scorn in her tone nettled me. Even Joanna should not
speak of him irreverently.

"If he had bought you from your mother for half-a-crown," said I, "and
made you into a student at Janot's, you would worship him too, Madame."

"I have been wondering whether you kept your promise to me," she said--I
wish women were not so disconcertingly irrelevant--"but now I am quite
sure."

"Of course I didn't tell my master," I declared stoutly.

"Good. And this little drive must be a secret too."

"If you wish," I said. "But I don't like to have secrets from him."

"Give me his address," she said after a pause, and I noticed she spoke
with some effort. "Does he still go by that absurd name? What was it?"

"His name is Berzélius Paragot, and he lives at No. 11 Rue des
Saladiers."

"Do you know his real name?"

"Yes, Madame," said I. "It is Gaston de Nérac. I only learned it lately
through Monsieur Izelin."

"Do you know Izelin, too?" she asked.

I explained my stay in Buda-Pesth. I also mentioned Monsieur Izelin's
reticence in speaking of Paragot's early days.

I think he was cautioned by my Master.

"And who do you think I am?" The sudden question startled me.

"You," said I, "are Joanna."

"Indeed? How long have you known that, pray?"

"When I came to you with the tambourine at Aix-les-Bains."

"I don't understand," she said, the frozen blue coming into her eyes.
"Did he tell you then--a child like you?"

"He has never mentioned your name to me, Madame," I said eagerly, for I
saw her resentment.

"Then how did you know?"

I recounted the history of the old stocking. I also mentioned Paragot's
appeal to me as a scholar and a gentleman.

A wan smile played about her lips.

"Was that soon after he bought you for half-a-crown?"

"Yes, Madame," said I.

"And an old stocking?"

"Yes, Madame. And since then we have never spoken of the papers."

"But how did you know I was the--the Joanna of the papers?"

"I guessed," said I. I could not tell her of the _petits pieds si
adorés_.

"You are an odd boy," she said. "Tell me all about yourself."

Unversed in woman's wiles I flushed with pleasure at her flattering
interest. I did not perceive that it was an invitation to tell her all
about Paragot. I related, however, artlessly the story of my life from
the morning when I delivered my tattered copy of "Paradise Lost" to
Paragot instead of the greasy washing book: and if my narrative glowed
rosier with poetic illusion than the pages on which it has been set
down, pray forgive nineteen for seeing things in a different light and
perspective from a hundred and fifty. In my description of the Lotus
Club, for instance, I felt instinctively that Madame de Verneuil would
wince at the sound of tripe; I conveyed to her my own childish
impression of the magnificence of Paragot's bedchamber, and the story of
our wanderings became an Idyll of No Man's Land.

"And what is he doing now?" We had grown so confidential that we
exchanged smiles.

"He is cultivating philosophy," said I.

Perhaps it was a sign of my development that I could detect a little
spot of clay in my idol.

We had gone south, past the Observatoire to Montrouge, and had turned
back before I realised that we were in the Boulevard Saint-Michel again
near the prearranged end of my drive.

"Do you know why I am so glad to have met you to-day?" she asked. "I
think--indeed I know I can trust you. I am in great trouble and I have
an idea that your Master can help me."

She looked at me so earnestly, so wistfully, her face seemed to grow of
a sudden so young and helpless, that all my boy's fantastic chivalry was
roused.

"My Master would lay down his life for you, Madame," I cried. "And so
would I."

"Even if I never, never, in this world forgave him?"

"You would forgive him in the next, Madame," I answered, scarce knowing
what I said, "and he would be contented."

The carriage stopped at the appointed place. I felt as if I were about
to descend from the side of an Olympian goddess to sordid humanity, to
step from the Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon on to the common
earth. It was I who looked wistful.

"May I come to see you, Madame?"

The quick fear came into her eyes.

"Not as yet, Mr. Asticot," she said holding out her hand. "My husband is
queer tempered at times. I will write to you."

The carriage drove off. For the second time she had left me with her
husband on her lips. I had forgotten him completely. I stamped my foot
on the pavement.

"He is a scaly vulture," said I, echoing Paragot. Gods! How I hated the
poor man.

       *       *       *       *       *

One evening, about a week after this, some seven or eight of us were
gathered around Paragot's table at the Café Delphine. Two were
_rapins_--we have no word for the embryo painter--my companions in
Janot's _atelier_. Of the rest I only remember one--poor Cazalet. He
wore a self-tailored grotesque attire, a brown stuff tunic girt at the
waist by a leathern belt, shapeless trousers of the same material, and
sandals. He had long yellow hair and untrimmed chicken fluff grew
casually about his face. A sombre genius, he used to paint dark writhing
horrors of souls in pain, and in his hours of relaxation to drink litres
of anisette. At first he disliked and scoffed at me because I was an
Englishman, which grieved me sorely, for I regarded him as the greatest
genius, save Paragot, of my acquaintance. I found him ten years
afterwards a _sous-chef de gare_ on the Belgian frontier.

It was about half past eleven. Our table gleamed a motley wilderness of
glasses and saucers. Only two other tables were occupied: at the one two
men and a woman played _manille_, on the other a pair of players rattled
dominoes, Madame Boin, sunk into her rolls of fat, drowsed on her throne
behind the counter. Hercule stood by, his dirty napkin tucked under his
arm, listening to Paragot's discourse. Through the glass side of the
café one could see the moving, flaring lights of the Boulevard
Saint-Michel. Paragot sipped absinthe and smoked his eternal pipe with
the porcelain bowl, and talked.

"The _Quartier Latin_! Do you call this bourgeois-stricken aceldama the
_Quartier Latin_? Do you miserable little white mice in clean shirts
call this the _Vie de Bohème_? Is there a devil of a fellow among you,
save Cazalet whose chilblains make him indecent, who doesn't wear socks?
Haven't you all dress suits? Aren't you all suffocating with virtue?
Would any Marcel of you lie naked in bed for two days so that Rodolfe
could pawn your clothes for the wherewithal to nurse Mimi in sickness?
Is there a Mimi in the whole etiolated _Quartier_?"

"But yes, _mon vieux_," said my friend Bringard who prided himself on
his intimacy with life. "There are even a great many."

Paragot swept his skinny fingers in a circular gesture.

"Where are they? Here? You see not. It is a stunted generation, my
gentle little lambs. Why _sacré nom de Saint-Antoine_!" he cried, with
one of his apposite oaths, "the very pigs in the good days could teach
you lessons in the romantic. Vices you have--but the noble passions? No!
Did you ever hear of the Café du Cochon Fidèle? Of course not. What do
you know? It was situated in the Rue des Cordiers. Mimi la Blonde was
the _demoiselle du comptoir_. Ah _bigre_! There are no such _demoiselles
du comptoir_ now. Exquisite. Ah!" He blew a kiss from the tips of his
long nails.

"You are very impolite, Monsieur Paragot," cried Madame Boin from her
throne.

"Listen, Madame," said he, "to the story of the pig and you shall judge.
The whole quartier was mad for Mimi, including a pig. Yes, a great fat
clean pig with sentimental eyes. He belonged to the _charcutier_
opposite. I am telling you the authentic history of the _Quartier_.
Every day the devoted animal would stand at the door and gaze at Mimi
with adoration--ah! but such an adoration, my children, an adoration,
respectful, passionate, without hope. Only now and then his poor
sensitive snout quivered his despair. Sometimes happier rivals, with two
legs, _mais pour ça pas moins cochons que lui_, admitted him into the
café. He would sit before the counter, his little tail well arranged
behind him, his ears cocked up politely, his eyes full of tears--he wept
like a cow this poor Népomucène--they called him Népomucène--and when
Mimi looked at him he would utter little cries of the heart like a
strangulated troubadour. Ah, it was hopeless this passion; but for one
long year he never wavered. The _Quartier_ respected him. Of him it was
said: "Love is given to us as a measure to gauge our power of
suffering." Suddenly Mimi disappeared. She married a certain Godiveau, a
charcoal merchant in the vicinity. Népomucène stood all day by the door
with haggard eyes. Then knowing she would return no more, he walked with
a determined air to the roadway of the Boul' Mich' and cast himself
beneath the wheels of an omnibus. He committed suicide."

Paragot stopped abruptly and finished his absinthe. There was vociferous
applause. I have never met anyone with his gift of magical narration.
Hercule was summoned amid a confused hubbub and received orders for
eight or nine different kinds of drink. We were fantastic in our
potations in those days.

"Ah!" said Paragot, excited as usual by his success, "_ou sont les
neiges d'antan_? Where is the good Père Cordier of the Café Cordier? He
would play billiards with his nose, and a little pug nose at that, my
children. When it grew greasy he would chalk it deliberately. Once he
made a break of two hundred and forty-five. A champion! The Café Cordier
itself? Swept long ago into the limbo of dear immemorable dissolute
things. Then there was the Café du Bas-Rhin on the Boul' Mich' where
Marie la Démocrate drank fifty-five bocks in an evening against Hélène
la Sévère who drank fifty-three. Where are such women now, O generation
of slow worms? Where is----"

He stopped. His jaw dropped. "My God!" he exclaimed in English, rising
from his chair. We followed his gaze. Astounded, I too sprang up.

It was the Comtesse de Verneuil standing in the doorway and looking in
her frightened way into the café: Joanna in dark fitting toque and loose
jacket beneath which one saw a gleaming high evening dress. I noted
swiftly that she had violets in her toque. Her beauty, her rare
daintiness compelled a stupefied silence. I sped towards the door and
went with her into the street. A closed carriage stood by the kerb.

She took me by the front of my loose jacket and twisted it nervously.

"Get him out, Mr. Asticot. Tell him I must see him."

"But how did you come here?" I asked.

"I went first to the Rue des Saladiers. The servant told me I should
find him at the Café Delphine."

I left her outside, and re-entering, met him in the middle of the Café,
grasping his green hat in one hand and the pipe with the porcelain bowl
in the other. All eyes were turned anxiously towards us.

"She has come for you, Master," I whispered. "She needs you. Come."

"What does she want with me? It was all over and done with thirteen
years ago." His voice shook.

"She is waiting," said I.

I drew him to the door and he obeyed me with strange docility. He drew a
deep breath as soon as we emerged on to the wind-swept pavement.

"Gaston."

"Yes," said he.

They remained looking at each other for several seconds, agitated,
neither able to speak.

"You were very cruel to me long ago," she said at last.

My Master remained silent; the wooden stem of the pipe snapped between
his fingers and the porcelain bowl fell with a crash to the pavement.

"Very cruel, Gaston. But you can make a little reparation now, if you
like."

"I repair my cruelty to you?" He laughed as men laugh in great pain.
"Very well. It will be a fitting end to a topsy-turvy farce. What can I
do for Madame la Comtesse?"

"My husband is ill. Come to him. My carriage is here. Oh, put on your
hat and don't stand there French fashion, bareheaded. We are English."

"We are what you will," said my Master putting on his hat. "At present
however I am mystified by your lighting on me in the dustbin of Paris.
You must have done much sifting."

"I will tell you as we drive," she said.

I walked with them across the pavement and opened the carriage door.

"Goodnight, Mr. Asticot," said Madame la Comtesse holding out her hand.

Paragot looked from me to her, shrugged his shoulders and followed her
into the carriage. My master had many English attributes, but in the
shrug, the pantomime of Kismet, he was exclusively French.



CHAPTER XII


"_Mais dis donc, Asticot_," said Blanquette holding a half egg-shell in
each hand while the yolk and white fell into the bowl, "who was the lady
that came last night and wanted to see the Master?"

"You had better ask him," said I.

"I have done so, but he will not tell me."

"What did he say?"

"He told me to ask the serpent. I don't know what he meant," said
Blanquette.

I explained the allusion to the curiosity of Eve.

"But," objected the literal Blanquette, "there is no serpent in the Rue
des Saladiers--unless it is you."

"You have beaten those eggs enough," I remarked.

"You can teach me many things, but how to make omelettes--ah no!"

"All right," said I, "when your inordinate curiosity has spoiled the
thing, don't blame me."

"She is very pretty," said Blanquette.

"Pretty? She is entirely adorable."

Blanquette sighed. "She must have a great many lovers."

"Blanquette!" cried I scandalised, "she is married."

"Naturally. If she weren't she could not have lovers. I wish I were only
half as beautiful."

The lump of butter cast into the frying-pan sizzled, and Blanquette
sighed again. I must explain that I had come, as I often did, to share
Paragot's midday meal, but as he was still abed, Blanquette had enticed
me into her tiny kitchen. The omelette being for my sole consumption I
may be pardoned for my interest in its concoction.

"So that you could be married and have lovers?" I asked in a superior
way.

"Too many lovers make life unhappy," she replied sagely. "If I were
pretty I should only want one--one to love me for myself."

"And for what are you loved now?"

"For my omelettes," she said with a deft turn of the frying-pan.

"Blanquette," said I, "_je t'adore_."

She laughed with an "_es-tu bête!_" and ministered to my wants as I sat
down to my meal at a corner of the kitchen table. She loved this. Great
as was her pride in the speckless and orderly salon, she never felt at
her ease there. In the kitchen she was herself, at home, and could do
the honours as hostess.

"Do you think the beautiful lady is in love with the Master?"

"You have been reading the _feuilletons_ of the _Petit Journal_ and your
head is full of sentimental nonsense," I cried.

"It is not nonsense for a woman to love the Master."

"Oho!" I exclaimed teasingly, "perhaps you are in love with him too."

She turned her back on me and began to clean a spotless casserole.

"_Mange ton omelette_," she said.

My meal over, I went to Paragot's room. I found him in bed, not as usual
pipe in mouth and a tattered volume in his hand, but lying on his back,
his arms crossed beneath his head, staring into the white curtains of
which Blanquette was so proud.

"My son," said he, after he had enquired after my welfare and my lunch
and advised me as to cooling medicaments wherewith to mitigate a certain
pimplous condition of cheek, "My son, I want you to make me a promise.
Swear that if a hitch occurs in your scheme of the cosmos, you will not
break up your furniture with a crusader's mace. Such a proceeding has
infinite consequences of effraction. It disrupts your existence and ends
with the irreparable smash of your porcelain pipe." Whereupon he asked
me for a cigarette and began to smoke reflectively.

"One ought to order one's scheme so that no hitch can occur," said I.

"As far as I can gather from the theologians that is beyond the power
even of the Almighty," said Paragot.

Blanquette appeared with the morning absinthe.

"The hitch, my son, in my case was beyond mortal control," he said
looking up at the bed-curtains. "You may think that I caused it in the
first place. You heard me last night accused of cruelty. You, discreet
little image that you are, know more about things than I thought. And
yet you must wonder, now that you are nearly a man, what can be, what
can have been between this disreputable hairy scallywag who is eating
the bread of idleness and," with a sip of his absinthe, "drinking the
waters of destruction, and that fair creature of dainty life. Don't
judge anyone, my little Asticot '_Hi sumus, qui omnibus veris falsa
quædam esse dicamus, tanta similitudine, ut in iis nulla insit certe
judicandi et assentiendi nota._' That is Cicero, an author to whom I
regret I have not been able to introduce you, and it means that the
false is so mingled with the true and looks so like it, that there is no
sure mark whereby we may distinguish one from the other. It is a damned
fool of a world."

In this chastened mood I left him.

I learned later in the day that the appearance of the Comtesse in the
Café Delphine and the exodus of Paragot had caused no small sensation.
Cazalet had peeped through the glass door.

"_Cré nom de nom_, she is driving him off in her own carriage!"

He returned to the table and drank a glass of anisette to steady his
nerves. Who was the lady? Evidently Paragot was leading a double life.
Madame Boin nodded her head mysteriously as though possessed of secrets
she would not divulge. They spent the evening in profitless conjecture.
The fact remained that Paragot, the hairy disreputable scallywag, had
relations with a high born and beautiful woman. It was stupefying.
_C'était abracadabrant!_ That was the final word. When the Quartier
Latin calls a thing _abracadabrant_ there is no more to be said.

The Café Delphine was far from being the school of discretion and good
manners that Paragot frequented in his youth, but such was his personal
influence that when he reappeared in his usual place no one dared allude
to the disconcerting incident. Paragot had recovered from the chastened
mood and was gay, Rabelaisian, and with great gestures talked of all
subjects under heaven. One of the International Exhibitions was in
prospect and many architects' offices were busy with projects for the
new buildings. A discussion on these having arisen--two of our company
were architectural students--Paragot declared that the Exhibition would
be incomplete without a Palais de Dipsomanie. Indeed it should be the
central feature.

"_Tiens!_" he cried, "I have an inspiration! Some one give me a soft
black pencil. Hercule, clear the table."

He caught the napkin from beneath Hercule's arm and as soon as the
glasses were removed, he dried the marble top, and holding the pencil
draughtsman's fashion, a couple of inches from the point, began to draw
with feverish haste. His long fingers worked magically. We bent over
him, holding our breath, as gradually emerged the most marvellous,
weird, riotous dream of drunken architecture the world could ever
behold. There were columns admirably indicated, upside down. The domes
looked like tops of half inflated balloons. Enormous buttresses
supporting nothing leaned incapable against the building. Bottles and
wine cups formed part of the mad construction. Satyrs' heads leered
instead of windows. The whole palace looked reeling drunk. It was a
tremendous feat of imagination and skill. The hour that he spent in
elaborating it passed like five minutes. When he had finished he threw
down his pencil.

"_Voilà!_"

Then he called for his drink and emptied the glass at a gulp. We all
clamoured our admiration.

"But Paragot," cried one of the architectural students in considerable
excitement, "you are a trained architect, and a great architect! It is
the work of a genius. Garnier himself could not have done it."

Paragot whipped up the napkin from the seat and, before we could
protest, rubbed the drawing into a black smudge.

"I am a poet, painter, architect, musician and philosopher, _mon petit_
Bibi," said he, "and my name is Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot."

It was growing late and we all rose in a body--except Paragot, who made
a point of remaining after everyone had gone. He caught me by the
sleeve.

"Stay a bit to-night, my little Asticot," said he.

Usually he would not allow me to remain late at the Café. It was bad for
my health; and indeed I was not supposed to waste my time thus more than
two evenings a week. Paragot did not include my seeing him make a Helot
of himself as part of my education. This was the theory at the back of
his mind. In practice it had occurred at intervals since the days (or
nights) of the Lotus Club.

Paragot ordered another drink. It was astonishing, said he, how
provocative of thirst was any diversion from the ordinary course of
life.

"If the pig of the Café Cordier had been human," he remarked, "he would
have sat down and consumed intoxicating liquors instead of throwing
himself under the wheels of an omnibus. My son," he said with solemn
eyes, "reverence that pig. It is few of us who have his courage and
single-heartedness."

He went on talking for some time in a semi-coherent strain, clouding
over with dim allusions the vital idea which, I verily believe, had I
been a kind woman of the world instead of a raw youth of nineteen, he
would have crystallised with flaming speech. I could only listen to him
dumbly, vaguely divinatory through my love for him and I suppose through
a certain temperamental sensitiveness, but alas! uncomprehending by
reason of my inexperience in the deeps of life.

Presently he announced that he was ready to start. He walked somewhat
unsteadily to the door, his hand on my shoulder.

"My little son Asticot," said he on the threshold, "I am so far on my
road to immortality that I ought to have vine-leaves in my hair; instead
of which I have wormwood in my heart. Will you kindly take me to the
Pont Neuf."

"But dear Master," said I, "what on earth are you going to do there?"

"I have something important to say to Henri Quatre."

"You can say it better," I urged, "in the Rue des Saladiers."

"To the Pont Neuf," said he brusquely, pushing me away.

I had to humour him. We started up the Boulevard Saint-Michel. It was
drizzling with rain.

"Master, we had better go home."

He did not reply, but strode on. I have a catlike dislike of rain. I
bear it philosophically, but that is all. To carry on a conversation
during a persistent downpour is beyond my powers. I might as well try to
sing under water. Paragot, who ordinarily was indifferent to the
seasons' difference, and would discourse gaily in a deluge, walked on in
silence. We went along amid the umbrella-covered crowd, past the
steaming terraces of cafés, whose lights set the kiosques in a steady
glare and sent shafts of yellow from the tops of stationary cabs, and
caught the wet passing traffic in livid flashes, and illuminated faces
to an unreal significance; down the gloom-enveloped, silent quais
frowned upon by the dim and monstrous masses of architecture, guarding
the Seine like phantasmagorical bastions, none visible in outline, but
only felt looming in the rain-filled night, until we reached the statue
of Paragot's tutelary King. And the rain fell miserably.

We were wet through. I put my hand on his dripping sleeve.

"Master, let me see you home."

He shook me off roughly.

"You can go."

"But dear Master," I implored. He put both hands behind his head and
threw out his arms in a great gesture.

"Boy! Can't you see," cried he, "that I am in agony of soul?"

I bent my head and went away. God knows what he said to Henri Quatre. I
suppose each of us has a pet Gethsemane of his own.

       *       *       *       *       *

One night, a few weeks later, Blanquette appeared in my little student's
attic. Fired by the example of some of my comrades at Janot's who showed
glistening five-franc pieces as the rewards of industry, I was working
up a drawing which I fondly hoped I could sell to a comic paper. Youth
is the period of insensate ambitions.

I put down my charcoal as Blanquette entered, bare-headed--wise girl,
she scorned hats and bonnets--and as neatly dressed as her figure daily
growing dumpier would allow. She was laughing.

"Guess what your concierge said."

"That it was improper for you to come to see me at this hour of the
night."

"Improper? Bah!" cried Blanquette, for whom such conventions existed
not. "But she told me that it was _un joli petit amant_ that I had
upstairs. What an idea!" She laughed again.

"You find that funny?" I asked, my dignity somewhat ruffled. "I suppose
I am as pretty a little lover as anyone else."

"But you and me, Asticot, it is so droll."

"If you put it that way," I admitted, "it is. But the concierge doesn't
think it possible that you are not my _maîtresse_. Why otherwise should
you be running in and out of my room, as if it belonged to you?"

"You will be bringing a _maîtresse_ of your own here soon, and then you
won't want Blanquette any longer."

I dismissed the idea as one too remote for contemplation. At the same
time I reflected that I kissed a pretty model at Janot's when we met
alone on the stairs. I wondered whether the diabolical perspicacity of
women had seen traces of the kiss on my lips.

"I disturb you?" she asked drawing up my other wooden chair to the deal
table and sitting down.

"Why, no. I can work while you talk."

She put her elbow on a couple of pickled gherkins that remained casually
on the table after a perambulatory meal.

"Oh, how dirty men are! You are worse than the Master. Oh la! la! and he
puts his boots and his dirty plates together on his bed! It is time that
you did have a _maîtresse_ to keep the place in order."

"I believe you really do want to come here in that capacity," I said
laughingly.

She flushed at the jest and drew herself up. "You have no right to say
that, Asticot. I would sooner be the Master's servant than the mistress
or even the wife of any man living. He is everything to me, my little
Asticot, everything, do you hear? although he loves me just as he loves
you and Narcisse. _Il ne faut pas te moquer de moi._ You must not laugh
at me. It hurts me."

It was only then, for the first time, that I realised in Blanquette a
grown woman. Hitherto I had regarded her merely as a female waif picked
up like the dog and myself under Paragot's vagabond arm and attached to
him by ties of gratitude. Now, lo and behold! she was a woman talking of
deep things with a treacherous throb in her voice.

I reached across the table and took one of her coarse hands.

"_Mais tu l'aimes donc, ma pauvre Blanquette!_" I exclaimed in sympathy
and consternation.

She looked down and nodded. I did not know what to say. A tear fell on
my hand. I knew still less. Then crying out she was very unhappy, she
began to sob.

"He does not want me--even to pass the time. It has never entered his
head. I am too ugly. I do not demand that he should love me. It would be
asking for the moon."

"But he does love you, like a father," I said, in vain consolation. "I
love him like a son and you should love him like a daughter."

She did not even condescend to notice this counsel of perfection. She
was too ugly. She was built like a hayrick. The Master had never cast
his eyes on her, as doubtless he would have done, being a man, had she
any of the qualities of allurement. She suffered, poor Blanquette, from
the _spretæ injuria formæ_ with reason even more solid than the forsaken
Dido. She was humble, she sobbed; she did not demand a bit of love
bigger than that--and she clicked her finger nail. With that she would
be proud and happy.

"If the master were as gay as he used to be, I should not mind," she
said, lifting a grotesquely stained face. "But when he goes drinking,
drinking so as to drown his love for another woman, _c'est plus fort que
moi_. It is more than I can bear."

"Which other woman?"

"You know very well. That beautiful lady. She has come more than once to
fetch him away. She is a wicked woman, for she does not love him; she
even detests him; one can see that. I should like to kill her," cried
Blanquette.

The idea of anyone wanting to kill Joanna was so novel that I stared at
her speechless. It took some time for my wits to accommodate themselves
to the point of view.

"If I were a man I would not drink myself to death for the sake of a
woman who treated me so," she remarked, recovering her composure.

"Is it as bad as that?" I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. Men must drink. It is their nature. But
there should be limits. One ought to be reasonable, even a man. Did I
not think so? In her matter of fact way she gave me details of Paragot's
habits. The one morning absinthe had grown to two or three. There was
brandy too in his bedroom.

"And it eats such a deal of money, my little Asticot," she remarked.

After which, to relieve her feelings, she washed up my dirty plates, and
discoursed on the economics of catering.

I walked with her through the two or three streets that separated me
from the Rue des Saladiers, and went upstairs with her to see whether
Paragot had returned. It was past midnight. There was no Paragot. I went
to the Café Delphine profoundly depressed by Blanquette's story. Here
was Blanquette eating her heart out for Paragot, who was killing his
soul for Joanna, who was miserably unhappy on account of her husband,
who was suffering some penalty for his scaly-headed vulturedom. It was a
kind of House-that-Jack-built tale of misery, of which I seemed to be
the foundation.

Save for Paragot the café was empty. He was asleep in his usual corner,
breathing stertorously, his head against the wall. Madame Boin on her
throne was busy over accounts. Hercule dozed at a table by the door, his
napkin in the crook of his arm. He nodded towards Paragot as I entered
and made a helpless gesture. I looked at the huddled figure against the
wall and wondered how the deuce I was to take him home. I had no money
to pay for a cab. I tried in vain to rouse him.

"Monsieur had better let him stay here," said Hercule. "It won't be the
first time." My heart grew even heavier than it was before. No wonder
poor Blanquette was dismayed.

"He will catch his death of cold when the morning comes," said I, for
the night was fresh and three years of warm lying had softened the
Paragot of vagrant days.

"One must die sooner or later," moralised Hercule inhumanly.

I shook my master again. He grunted. I shook him more violently. To my
relief he opened his eyes, smiled at me and waved a limp salutation.

"The Palace of Dipsomania," he murmured.

"No, Master," said I. "This is the Café Delphine and you live in the Rue
des Saladiers."

"It is a nuisance to live anywhere. I was born to be a bird--to roost
on trees." I had considerable difficulty in disentangling the words from
his thick speech. He shut his eyes--then opened them again.

"How does a drunken owl stay on his twig?"

As I felt no interest in the domestic habits of dissolute owls, I set
about getting him home. I took his green hat from the peg and put it on
his head, and with Hercule's help drew away the table and set him on his
feet.

"A man like that! It goes to my heart," said Madame Boin in a low voice.

I felt unreasonably angry that any one, save myself or perhaps
Blanquette, should pity my beloved master. I did not answer, whereby I
am afraid I was rude to the good Madame Boin. Paragot lurched forward
and would have fallen had not Hercule caught and steadied him.

"Broken ankle," explained Paragot.

"You must try to walk, Master," I urged anxiously. How was I going to
get him to the Rue des Saladiers? His arm round my neck weighed cruelly
on my frail body.

"Put best foot forward," he murmured making a step and pausing. "That is
very easy; but the devil of it is when time comes for worst foot."

"Try it, for goodness sake," said I.

He tried it with a silly laugh. Then the swing door of the café opened
and Joanna with her sweet frightened face appeared on the threshold.



CHAPTER XIII


THE sight of Joanna froze Paragot into momentary sobriety. He stood
rigid for a few seconds and then swayed into a chair by one of the
tables and sat with his head in his hands. I went up to Joanna.

"He can't come to-night, Madame."

"Why not?"

"He is not fit."

As she realised my meaning a look of great pain and repulsion passed
over her face.

"But he must come. Perhaps he will be better presently. You will
accompany us and help me, Mr. Asticot, won't you?"

As usual the frost melted from her eyes and her voice--the silvery
English voice--went to my heart. I bent over Paragot and whispered.

"Take her from this pigstye and the sight of the hog," muttered Paragot.
His hands were clenched in a mighty effort to concentrate his wits.
Joanna approached and touched him on the shoulder.

"Gaston."

Suddenly he relaxed his grip and broke into a stupid laugh.

"Very well. What does it matter? Sorry haven't got--velveteen suit."

"What does he say?" she asked turning to me.

"That he will come, Madame," said I.

Hercule aided me to frog-march him out of the café and across the
pavement to the waiting carriage. Joanna took her seat by his side and I
sat opposite. Hercule shut the carriage door and we drove off. Paragot
relapsed into stupor.

"I don't know how to ask you to forgive me, Mr. Asticot, for keeping you
out of your bed at this time of night," said Joanna. "But I am very
friendless here in Paris."

We went along the Boul' Mich' by the quais to the Pont de la Concorde,
crossed the vast and now silent expanse of the Place de la Concorde and,
going by the Rue Royale and the long dull Boulevard Malesherbes and the
Boulevard Haussmann, entered the Avenue de Messine. It is a long drive
under the most cheerful circumstances; but at one o'clock in the morning
in the company of the dearest thing in the world to me half drunk, and
the dear lady whom he worshipped horrified and disgusted at the thought
thereof, it seemed interminable. At last we arrived at No. 7. At my ring
the door swung open drawn by the concierge within. I helped Paragot out
of the carriage. He made a desperate effort to stand and walk steadily.
Heaven knows how he managed to clamber with not too great indecency up
the stairs to the Comte de Verneuil's flat on the first floor. Joanna
opened the door with her latch key and we entered a softly-lit drawing
room.

"Let me sit down," said Paragot. "I shall be better presently."

He sank an ashamed heap on a sofa by the wall, and with his fingers
through his long black hair fought for mastery over his intoxication.
The Comtesse de Verneuil left us and presently returned, having taken
off her hat and evening wrap. She brought a little silver tray with
Madeira wine and biscuits.

"We need something, Mr. Asticot," she said graciously.

We drank the wine and sat down to wait for Paragot's recovery. Although
it was late May, a wood fire glowed beneath the great chimney-piece.
This made of blue and white ware with corbels of cherubs caught my
attention. I had seen things like it in the stately museums of Italy.

"But this is Della Robbia," I exclaimed.

She smiled, somewhat surprised. "You are a connoisseur as well as a
philosopher, Mr. Asticot? Yes, it is Della Robbia. The Comte de Verneuil
is a great collector."

Then for the first time I looked about the room, and I caught my breath
as I realised its wealth and luxury. For a time I forgot Paragot, lost
in a dream of Florentine tapestries, priceless cabinets, porcelain,
silver, pictures, richly toned rugs, chairs with rhythmic lines, all
softened into harmonious mystery by the shaded light of the lamps. At
the end of a further room just visible through the looped curtains a
great piece of statuary gleamed white. I had never entered such a room
in my life before. My master had taken me through the show apartments of
great houses and palaces, but they were uninhabited, wanted the human
touch. It had not occurred to me that men and women could have such
wonder as their daily environment, or could invest it with the
indefinable charm of intimacy. I turned and looked at Joanna as she sat
by the Della Robbia chimney-piece, gracious and distinguished, and
Joanna became merged in the Countess de Verneuil, the great lady, as far
removed from me as my little bare attic from this treasure house of
luxury. She wore the room, so to speak, as I wore the attic. Overcome
by sudden timidity I could barely reply to her remarks.

She was in no mood for conversation, poor lady; so there dropped upon us
a dead silence, during which she stared frozenly into the fire while I,
afraid to move, occupied the time by storing in my memory every
bewitching detail of her dress and person. The oil sketch of her I made
a day or two afterwards hangs before me as I write these lines. I prided
myself on having caught the colour of her hair--black with the blue
reflections like the blue of cigarette smoke.

Suddenly the quietness was startled by loud groans of agony and
unintelligible speech coming from some room of the flat. Paragot
staggered noisily to his feet, a shaking, hairy, dishevelled spectre,
blinking glazed eyes.

Madame de Verneuil started and leaned forward, her hands on the arms of
her chair.

"My husband," she whispered, and for a few seconds we all listened to
the unearthly sounds. Then she rose and turned to me.

"You had better see it through."

She crossed to Paragot.

"Are you better now?"

"I can do what is required of me," said my master, humbly, though in his
ordinary voice. He was practically sober.

"Then come," said Joanna.

We followed her out of the room, through softly carpeted corridors full
of pictures and statues and beautiful vases, and entered a dimly lit
bedroom. A nurse rose from a chair by the bed, where lay a bald-headed,
beaky-nosed man groaning and raving in some terrible madness. Joanna
gripped my arm as Paragot went to the bedside.

"I am Gaston de Nérac," said he.

The Comte de Verneuil raised himself on his elbow and looked at him in a
wild way. I too should have liked to grip someone's arm, for the sight
of the man sent a shudder through me, but I braced myself up under the
consoling idea that I was protecting Joanna.

"You are not dead then? I did not kill you?" said the Comte de Verneuil.

"No, since I am here to tell you that I am alive."

The sweat poured off the man's face. He lay back exhausted.

"I do not know why," he gasped, "but I thought I had killed you." He
closed his eyes.

"That is enough," said the nurse.

Without a word, we all returned to the drawing-room. It was an
astounding comedy.

"I am grateful," said Joanna to my master. "I wish there were some means
of repaying you."

"I thought," said he, with a touch of irony which she did not notice,
"that it was I who was paying for a wrong I did you."

She drew herself up and surveyed him from head to foot, with a little
air of disdain.

"I forget," she said icily, "that you ever did me any wrong."

"And I can't," said he; "I wish to heaven I could. You beheld me
to-night in the process of trying--an unedifying sight for Madame la
Comtesse de Verneuil."

"An unedifying sight for anybody," said Joanna.

He bowed his head. Something pathetic in his attitude touched her. She
was a tender-hearted woman. Her hand caught his sleeve.

"Gaston, why have you come down to this? You of all men?"

"Because I am the one poor fool of all poor fools who takes life
seriously."

Joanna sighed. "I can't understand you."

"Is there any necessity?"

"You belong to a time when one wanted to understand everything. Now
nothing much matters. But curiously in your case the desire has
returned."

"You understood me well enough to be sure that when you wanted me I
would be at your service."

"I don't know," she said. "It was a desperate resort to save my
husband's reason. Oh, come," she cried, moving to the chairs by the
fire, "let us sit and talk for five minutes. The other times you came
and went and we scarcely spoke a word. Besides," with a forced laugh,
"it would not have been _convenable_. Now Mr. Asticot is here as
chaperon. It doesn't seem like real life, does it, that you and I should
be here? It is like some grotesque dream in which all sorts of
incoherences are mixed up together. Don't you at least find it
interesting?"

"As interesting as toothache," replied Paragot.

"If it is pain for you to talk to me, Gaston, I will not detain you,"
said Joanna, rising from her chair.

"Forgive me," said he; "I suppose my manners have gone with the rest.
You may help me to recover them if you allow me to talk to you."

He passed his hand wearily over his face, which during the last minute
or two had been overspread by a queer pallor. He looked ghastly.

"Tell me," said he, "why you come to that boozing-ken of a place? A
note would reach me and I would obey."

She explained that there was no time for letter-writing. The Comte's
attacks came on suddenly at night. To soothe him it was necessary to
find the chief actor in the absurd comedy at once, at any cost to her
reputation. Besides, what did it matter? The only person who knew of her
escapade was the coachman, an old family servant of the Comte, as
discreet as death.

"How long have these attacks been going on?" asked my master.

Joanna poured out her story with the pathetic eagerness of a woman who
has kept hateful secrets in her heart too long and at last finds a human
soul in whom she can confide. I think she almost forgot my presence, for
I sat modestly apart, separated from them by the wide cone of light cast
by the shaded lamp.

The first symptoms of mental derangement, she said, had manifested
themselves two years ago. They had gradually increased in frequency and
intensity. During the interval the Comte de Verneuil went about the
world a sane man. The attacks, as she had explained, came on suddenly,
always at night, and his fixed idea was that he had killed Gaston de
Nérac. Before Paragot had appeared they lasted two or three days, till
they spent themselves leaving the patient in great bodily prostration.
When she had met me taking the Spring outside the Hôtel Bristol, a wild
idea had entered her head that the confrontation of the Comte with the
living Gaston de Nérac might end his madness. On the occasion of the
next attack she had rushed in eager search for Paragot, had brought him
to the raving bedside, and the result had been magical. She had thought
the cure permanent; but a fortnight later the attack returned, as it had
returned again and again, and as it had returned to-night.

"It is charitable of you to have come, Gaston," she said, in her sweet
way, "and I must ask you to forgive me for anything unkind I may have
said."

He made some reply in a low voice which I did not hear, and for a little
time their talk was pitched in the same tone. I began to grow sleepy. I
aroused myself with a jerk to hear Joanna say,

"Why did you play that detestable tune from 'Orphée aux Enfers'?"

"To see if you would recognise it. Some mocking devil prompted me. It
was the last tune you and I heard together--the night of our engagement
party. The band played it in the garden."

"Don't--don't!" exclaimed Joanna, putting up her hands to her face.

This then was why each had cried out at Aix-les-Bains against the merry
little tune. It was interesting. I saw however that it must have jangled
horribly on tense nerves.

She dashed away her hands suddenly and strained her face towards him.

"Why, Gaston--why did you?"

He rose with a deprecating gesture and there was a hunted look in his
eyes. During all this strange scene he was no longer Paragot, my master,
but Gaston de Nérac whom I did not know. His wild, picturesque speech,
his dear vagabond manner had gone. The haggardness of some desperate
illness changed his features and I grew frightened. I came to his side.

"Master--we must take a cab. Have you any money?"

"Yes," he said faintly, "let us go home."

"But you are ill! You look as white as a ghost!" cried Joanna, in alarm.

"I had a dinner of herbs--in the liquid form of absinthe," said my
master with a clutch at Paragot. "How does it go? Better a dinner of
herbs where love is----"

"Ah! Monsieur has not yet gone," said the nurse, hurrying into the room.
"Monsieur le Comte begs me to give this to Monsieur."

She held out a letter.

"Monsieur le Comte made me open his despatch box, Madame," she added
apologetically.

She left the room. Paragot stood twirling the letter between his
fingers. Joanna bade him open it. It might be something important
Paragot drew from the envelope half a sheet of note-paper. He looked at
it, made a staggering step to the door and fell sprawling prone upon the
carpet.

Joanna uttered a little cry of fright, and, as I did, cast herself on
her knees beside him. He had fainted. Abstinence from food, drink, his
tremendous effort of will towards sobriety, the strain of the interview,
had brought him to the verge of the precipice, and it only required the
shock of the letter to send him toppling over. We propped his head on
cushions and loosened his collar.

"What can we do?" gasped my dear lady.

"I will call the nurse from Monsieur le Comte's room," said I.

"She will know," said Joanna hopefully.

I went to the Comte's room, opened the door and beckoned to the nurse.
She gave a glance at her sleeping patient and joined me in the corridor.
On my explanation she brought water and sal-volatile and returned with
me to the drawing-room. It was a night of stupefying surprises. The
_quartier_ would have called it _abracadabrant_ and they would not have
been far wrong. There was necromancy in the air. I felt it, as I
followed the nurse across the threshold. I anticipated something odd,
some grotesque development. In the atmosphere of those I loved in those
days I was as sensitive as a barometer.

Paragot lay still as death, his wild hairy head on the satin cushions,
but Joanna was crouching on her knees in the midst of the cone of light
cast by the shaded lamp, reading, with parted lips and blanched face,
the half sheet of note-paper. As we entered she turned and looked at me
and her eyes were frozen hard blue. The nurse bent over by my master's
side.

Joanna stretched out her arms full length towards me.

"Read," she cried, and her voice was harsh with no silvery tone in it at
all. I took the paper wonderingly from her fingers.

Why she should have shown it to me, the wretched little pasty-faced
gutter-bred art student, I could not conceive for many of the after
years during which I wrestled with the head- and heart-splitting
perplexities of women. But experience has taught me that human beings,
of whichever sex they may be, will do amazing things in times of
spiritual upheaval. I have known the primmest of vicar's churchwardens
curse like a coal-heaver when a new incumbent chose in his stead a less
prim man than he.

I was just a human entity, I suppose, who had strayed into the sacred
and intimate sphere of her life--the only one perhaps in the world who
had done so. She was stricken to the soul. Instinct compelled my sharing
of her pain.

She commanded me to read. I was only nineteen. Had she commanded me to
drink up eisel or eat a crocodile, I would have done it. I read.

The address of the letter was Eaton Square: the date, the 20th of June
thirteen years before. The wording as follows:--

"In consideration of the sum of Ten thousand pounds I the undersigned
Gaston de Nérac promise and undertake from this moment not to hold any
communication by word or writing with Miss Joanna Rushworth for the
space of two years--that is to say until midnight of the 20th June 18--.
Should however Miss Joanna Rushworth be married in the meantime, I
solemnly undertake on my honour as a gentleman not of my own free will
to hold any communication with her whatever as long as I live, or should
circumstances force us to meet, not to acquaint her in any way with the
terms of this agreement, whereof I hold myself bound by the spirit as
well as by the letter. GASTON DE NÉRAC."

       *       *       *       *       *

My young and unpractised mind required some minutes to realise the
meaning of this precious agreement. When it had done so I stared blankly
at Joanna.

The nurse in her businesslike fashion drew the curtains and flung the
French windows wide open.

"He has only fainted. He will soon come round."

She returned to Paragot's side. Joanna and I remained staring at each
other. She rose, took me by the sleeve and dragged me to the fireplace.

"The writing is my husband's," she said in a whisper. "The signature is
his," pointing to Paragot. "He sold me to my husband for ten thousand
pounds on the evening of our engagement party. What am I to do? I
haven't a friend in this hateful country."

I longed to tell her she had at least one friend, but as I could neither
help nor advise her I said nothing.

"No wonder he has a banking account," she said with a bitter laugh. I
noticed then that a strained woman's humour is unpleasant. She sat down.
The corners of her kind lips quivered.

"The world is turned upside down," she said piteously. "There is no
love, honour or loyalty in it. I felt this evening as if I could forgive
him; but now--" She rose and wrung her hands and exclaimed sharply, "Oh,
it's hateful, it's hateful for men to be so base!"

That it was a base action to sell Joanna for any sum of money, however
bewildering in largeness, I could not deny. But that Paragot should have
been guilty of it I would not have believed had the accusation come from
Joanna's own lips. The confounded scrap of paper, however, was proof.
Therein he had pledged himself to give up Joanna for ten thousand
pounds, and the scaly-headed vulture had paid the money. I turned away
sadly and went to help the nurse minister to my master.

He opened his eyes and whispered that I must fetch a cab.

"Or a dung-cart," he added, characteristically.

Glad of action I went out into the long quiet avenue and after five
minutes' walk hailed a passing fiacre. The nurse admitted me when I rang
the bell. I found Paragot sitting on the sofa by the wall, and Joanna
where I had left her, by the Della Robbia chimney-piece. Apparently they
had not had a very companionable five minutes. He rose as I entered.

"I thought you were never coming," said he. "Let us go."

"I must say good-bye to Madame."

"Be quick about it," he whispered.

I crossed the room to Joanna's chair and made a French bow according to
my instruction in manners.

"Good night, Madame."

She held out her hand to me--such a delicate soft little hand, but quite
cold and nerveless.

"Good night, Mr. Asticot. I am sorry our friendship has been so short."

I joined Paragot. He said from where he stood by the door:--

"Good night, Madame la Comtesse."

She made no reply. Instinctively both of us lingered a second on the
threshold, filling our eyes with the beauty and luxury that were all
part and parcel of Joanna, and as the door closed behind us we felt like
two bad angels turned out of Paradise.



CHAPTER XIV


I CAME across him the next afternoon sitting on a stone bench in the
Luxembourg Gardens. His hat was slouched forward over his eyes. His hand
supported his chin so that his long straggling beard protruded in a
curious Egyptian horizontality. His ill-laced boots innocent as usual of
blacking, for he would not allow Blanquette to touch them, were stuck
out ostentatiously, and to the peril of the near passers-by. He had
never during our acquaintance manifested any sense of the dandified; on
our travels he had worn the casual, unnoticeable dress of the peasant,
save when he had masqueraded in the pearl-buttoned velveteens; in London
a swaggering air of braggadocio had set off his Bohemian garb: but never
had the demoralised disreputability of Paragot struck me until I saw him
in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Everything else wore a startlingly fresh appearance, after the heavy
rains. The gravel walk had the prim neatness of a Peter de Hoogh garden
path. The white balustrades and flights of steps around the great
circle, the statuary and the fountains in the middle lake, flashed pure.
The enormous white caps of nurses, their gay silk streamers fluttering
behind them, the white-clad children, the light summer dresses of women;
the patches of white newspaper held by other loungers on the seats; a
dazzling bit of cirro-cumulus scudding across the clear Paris sky; the
pale dome of the Panthéon rising to the East; the background of the
Luxembourg itself in which one was only conscious of the high lights on
the long bold cornices; all set the key of the picture and gave it
symphonic value. The eye rejected everything but the whites and the
pearl greys, subordinating all other tones to its impression of
fantastic purity.

And there like an ink blot splashed on the picture, sat Paragot. The
very foulest odd-volume of Montesquieu's "Esprit des Lois" which could
be picked up on the quays lay unopened on his knee. Not until Narcisse,
who was sleeping at his feet, jumped up and barked a welcome around me
did Paragot notice my approach. He held out his hand, and the
finger-nails seemed longer and dirtier than ever. He drew me down to the
seat beside him.

"You were asleep when I ran in this morning, Master," said I
apologetically, for it was the first time I had seen him that day.

"Since then I have been thinking, my little Asticot. It is a vain
occupation for a May afternoon, and it makes your head ache. I should be
much better employed carting manure for Madame Dubosc. We earned two
francs. Do you remember?"

"I remember that my back ached terribly afterwards," said I laughing.

"Ah, but the ease and comfort in your soul! Perhaps there's nothing much
the matter with yours yet, is there?"

"I think it's all right," I answered.

"Something must be wrong with mine," he remarked meditatively, "because
at a crisis in my life I haven't had an inspiration. It is sluggish. I
want a soul pill."

This time it was I who had an inspiration--one of terrifying audacity.

"Master, perhaps absinthe isn't good for it," said I all in a breath.

"Infant Solomon," replied Paragot ironically, "where have you gathered
such a store of wisdom? Have you a scrap of paper in your pocket?"

"Yes, Master," said I, producing a sketch-book and preparing to tear out
a leaf. He stopped my hand.

"Leave it in. All the better. As I am sure you don't remember the
passage from Cicero's _De Natura Deorum_ which I quoted to you some time
ago, since you are unacquainted with the Latin tongue, I will dictate it
to you, and you can learn it by heart and say it like a Pater or an Ave
morning and evening."

I wrote down at his dictation the passage concerning the impossibility
of judging between the false and true. And that is how I was able to set
it down in its proper place in a previous chapter.

"Do you know why I have made you do this?"

"Yes, Master," said I, for I knew that he referred to the sale of Joanna
for ten thousand pounds.

"Circumstance flattens a man out sometimes," said he, "like a ribbon--as
if he had been carefully ironed by a hot steam roller. I suppose a
flattened man can't have an inspiration. I am my own tomb-stone and you
can chalk across me '_Hic jacet qui olim Paragotus fuit_.'"

His tone was so dejected that I felt a sinking at my heart, a
scratchiness in my nose and a wateriness in my eyes. I suffered the
pangs of suppressed sympathy. What could a boy of nineteen say or do in
order to restore rotundity to a flattened hero?

"Years ago," he continued after a pause, "I found the world a Lie and I
started off to chase the wild goose of Truth. I captured nothing but a
taste for alcohol which brought me eventually beneath the steam roller.
Were it not the silliest legend invented by man, I should say to you
'Beware of the steam roller.' But if a man's sober he can see the thing
himself; if he isn't, he can't read the warning. I can only tell you to
be unalcoholic and you'll be happy. You see, my little son Asticot, to
what depths I have descended in that I can be the Apostle of the
Platitudinous."

He leaned forward, chin on knuckles, and his beard again stuck out
horizontally. Happy people passed us by. For many the work of the day
was already over and they had the lingering magic of the sunshine for
their own. A young blue-bloused workman and a girl hanging on his arm
brushed close by our seat.

"_Si, nous aurons des enfants, et de beaux enfants_," she cried.

"I hope they will," said Paragot, looking at them wistfully. Then after
a pause: "Has the Comtesse de Verneuil any children?"

"No, Master," said I in a tone of conviction. It struck me later that I
had spoken from blank ignorance. But at the moment the question seemed
preposterous. In many ways I had still the unreasoning instincts of a
child. Because I had never contemplated my dear lady Joanna in the light
of a mother, I unhesitatingly proclaimed her childless. As a matter of
fact I was right.

Paragot, satisfied with my reply, watched the endless stream of cheerful
folk. Once he quoted to himself:--

"'The golden foot of May is on the flowers'--and on the heads of all but
me."

Suddenly he sat back and seized me by the arm.

"Asticot, you are a man now, and you must see things with the eyes of a
man. I have loved you like my son--if you should turn away, thinking
evil things of me, like someone else, it would break my heart. Neither
she nor you ought to have seen that accursed paper. You and Blanquette
and the dog are all I have in the world to care for, and I want you all
to think well of me."

Then the tears did spring into my eyes, for my beloved master's appeal
went home to that which was truest and best in me. I stammered out
something, I know not what; but it came from my heart. It pleased him.
He jumped to his feet in his old impetuous way.

"Bravo, _petit Asticot de mon coeur_! The nightmare is over, and we
can enjoy the sunshine again. We will drag Blanquette from the Rue des
Saladiers which does not lay itself out for jollity, and we will dine at
a reckless restaurant. Blanquette shall eat the snails which she adores
and I shall eat pig's feet and you an underdone beefsteak to nourish
your little body. And we shall all eat with our dinner '_le pain bénit
de la gaîté_.'"

He strode off eager as usual to put his idea into immediate execution.
He talked all the way to the Rue des Saladiers. Poor Blanquette! He had
been neglecting her. A girl of her age needed some amusement; we would
go to the Théâtre, the Porte Saint-Martin, like good bourgeois, and see
a melodrama so that Blanquette could weep.

"They are playing 'Les Eventreurs de Paris.' I hear they rip each other
up on the stage and everybody is reeking with blood--good honest red
blood--carried in bladders under their costumes, my son. You turn up
what you can of your snub little superior artistic nose--but Blanquette
will be in Paradise."

Blanquette was in the slip of a kitchen and a flurried temper when we
entered.

"But, Master, you said you would not be home for dinner. There is
nothing in the house--only this which I was cooking for myself," and she
dived her fork into the pot and brought up on the prongs a diminutive
piece of beef. "And now you and Asticot demand dinner, as if dinners
came out of the pot of their own accord. Ah men! They are always like
that."

I put my arm round her waist. "We are all dining out together,
Blanquette; but if you don't want to come, you shall stay at home."

"And without dinner," said Paragot, taking the fork from her hand and
throwing the meat to Narcisse.

"_Ah, mais non!_" cried Blanquette, whose sense of economy was outraged.
But when Narcisse sprang on the beef and finding it too hot, lay
growling at it until it should cool, she broke out laughing.

"After all, it would have been very tough," she admitted.

"Then why in the sacred name of shoe leather were you going to eat it?"
asked Paragot.

"Food is to be eaten, not thrown away, Master," she replied
sententiously.

We took the omnibus and crossed the river and went up the Grands
Boulevards, an unusual excursion for Paragot who kept obstinately to the
Boulevard Saint-Michel and the poorer streets of the _quartier_,
through fear, I believe, of meeting friends of former days. A restaurant
outside the Porte Saint-Martin provided a succulent meal. The place was
crowded. Two young soldiers sat at our table, and listened awe-stricken
to Paragot's conversation and were prodigiously polite to Blanquette,
who, they discovered, was from Normandy, like themselves. And when they
asked, after the frank manner of their kind, which of us had the honour
to be the lover of Mademoiselle, and she cried with scarlet face, "But
neither, Monsieur!" we all shouted together and laughed and became the
best friends in the world. Happy country of fraternity! The little
soldiers--they were dragoons and wore helmets too big for them and long
horsehair plumes--accompanied us with clanking sabres to the gallery of
the theatre, and at Paragot's invitation sat one on each side of
Blanquette, who, what with the unaccustomed bloodshed of the spectacle
and the gallantry of her neighbours, passed an evening of delirious
happiness. In those days I had an æsthetic soul above the 'Eventreurs de
Paris,' and I made fun of it to Paragot, whose thoughts were far away.
When I perceived this, I kept my withering sarcasm to myself, and
realised that a flattened man cannot be blown like a bladder into
permanent rotundity even by the faith and affection of a little
art-student. But I marvelled all the more at his gaiety during the
intervals, when we all went outside into the thronged boulevard and
drank bocks on the terrace of the café, and I learned how great a factor
in the continued existence of humanity is the Will-to-Laugh, which I
think the German philosopher has omitted from his system.

I mention this incident to show how Paragot defied the effects of the
steam roller and became outwardly himself again. He did not visit the
Café Delphine that night, but went soberly home with Blanquette, and I
believe read himself to sleep with his tattered odd volume of
Montesquieu. The following evening however found him in his usual seat
under the lee of Madame Boin's counter, arguing on art, literature and
philosophy and consuming a vast quantity of ill-assorted alcohols. And
then his life resumed its normal course.

It was about this time that Madame Boin seeing in Paragot an attractive
adjunct to her establishment and, with a Frenchwoman's business
instinct, desiring to make it permanent, paralysed him by an offer of
marriage.

"Madame," said he, as soon as he had recovered, "if I accepted the great
honour which you propose, you would doubtless require me to abandon
certain personal habits which are dear to me, and also to trim my hair
and beard and cut my finger-nails of whose fantastic length I am
inordinately proud."

"I think I should ask you to cut your nails," said Madame Boin
reflectively.

"Then, Madame," said Paragot, "it would be impossible. Shorn of these
adornments I should lose the power of conversation and I should be a
helpless and useless Samson on your hands."

"I don't see what long nails have to do with talking," argued Madame
Boin.

"They give one the necessary thirst," replied Paragot.

"My son," said he when relating to me this adventure, "do not cultivate
a habit of affability towards widows of the lower middle classes. There
was once a murderer's widow of Prague--"

"I know," said I.

"How?"

"There was an old stocking."

"I forgot," said he, and his laughing face darkened and I saw that he
fell to thinking of Joanna.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although much of my leisure was absorbed by the companionship of my
beloved Master and Blanquette, I yet had an individual life of my own. I
made dozens of acquaintances and one or two friends. I had not a care in
the world. Bisard, the great man attached to the life school in Janot's
atelier, proclaimed me one of the best of my year, and sent my heart
leaping sky-high. I worked early and late. I also played the fool as
(worse luck) only boyhood can. With my fellows, arm in arm through the
streets, I shouted imbecile songs. I went to all kinds of reprehensible
places--to the _bals du quartier_, for instance, where we danced with
simple-minded damsels who thought _choucroute garnie_ a generous supper
and a bottle of _vin cacheté_ as setting the seal of all that was most
distinguished upon the host. With the first five francs that I made by
selling a drawing I treated Fanchette, the little model I kissed on the
stairs, to a trip to Saint-Cloud. Five francs went prodigiously far in
those days. They had to, as some of us were desperately poor and could
afford but one meal a day. Fortunate youth that I was, whenever money
ran short, instead of borrowing or starving, I had only to climb to
Blanquette and open my mouth like a young bird and she filled it with
nice fat things. Poor sandalled Cazalet of the yellow hair, on the other
hand, lived sometimes for a week on dry bread and water. It was partly
his own fault; for had he chosen to make saleable drawings he too might
have had five francs wherewith to take Fanchette to Saint-Cloud. Pretty
little Pierrettes in frills and pointed caps are more attractive to the
cheap purchaser than ugly souls writhing in torment; and really they are
quite as artistic. We quarrelled fiercely over this one day, and he
challenged me to a duel. I replied that I had no money to buy pistols.
Neither had he, he retorted, but I could borrow a sabre. He himself had
one. His father had been an officer. Whereupon the studio bawled in
gleeful unison "_Voici le sabre, le sabre de mon père_," and dragged us
in tumult to the Café opposite where we swore eternal friendship over
_grogs américains_.

From this I do not mean you to infer that I was a devil of a fellow, the
mention of whose name spread a hush over godly families. God wot! I did
little harm. I only ate what Murger calls "the Blessed bread of gaiety,"
the food of youth. Remember, too, it was the first time in my life that
I had companions of my own age. Indeed, so nearly had I modelled myself
on Paragot the ever young, that my comrades laughed at my old fashioned
ideas, and I found myself hopelessly behind the times. Youth hops an
inch sideways and thinks it has leaped a mile ahead. All is vanity, even
youth.

'Tis a pleasant vanity though, on which the wise smile with regretful
indulgence; and therein lay the wisdom of Paragot.

"Ah! confounded little cock-sparrow--I haven't seen you for a week," he
said one morning, shaking me by the shoulders till my teeth chattered.
"What about the other little sparrow you neglected me for on Sunday? Is
she at least good-looking? A model? And she is a good girl and supports
her widowed mother and ten brothers and sisters, I suppose? And she
calls herself Fanchette? Narcisse, the lady of Monsieur Asticot's
affections has the singular name of Fanchette."

Whereupon Narcisse uncurled himself from slumber and planted himself on
his hindquarters in front of me and grinned at me with lolling tongue.

"But she is quite a different kind of girl from all the other models!" I
cried eagerly.

"What does she pose for?"

"Well--of course--you know how it is--" I stammered, reddening.

Paragot laughed and quoted something in Latin about an ingenuous boy.

"Would she be a fit companion for Blanquette and Narcisse and myself?"

Having deep convictions as to the essential virtues of Fanchette, I
swore that she could not disgrace so respectable a company.

"We will all picnic together in the woods of Fontainebleau on Sunday,"
said he.

We picnic-ed. Fanchette had no shynesses. She found Paragot peculiarly
diverting, and though I enjoyed the day prodigiously, I realised
afterwards that I had spent most of it in the company of Blanquette.

"My son," said he, "there never was a model so like all the other models
that have posed for the well-of-course-you-know-how-it-is, since the
world began."

A week later, when I found my particular friend Ewing, whom as a
tongue-tied Englishman I had relieved of many embarrassments, and for
whom I had secured an easel, branding it myself in twenty places with
his name, and for whom I had engineered a good position next to mine in
the Life School--when I saw Ewing hugging Fanchette on the stairs, on
the very landing sacred to my embraces, I knew that Paragot was right,
and that Fanchette was just a fickle, naughty little model like the
others. But if Paragot had not taken her measure before my eyes at
Fontainebleau and made a figured drawing so to speak of her heart and
soul, shewing their exiguous dimensions, I might have cast myself
beneath the wheels of an omnibus like the pig Népomucène, or blacked the
eyes of Ewing who was smaller than myself. As it was, I put my hands in
my trousers' pockets and surveyed the abashed couple in Paragot's best
manner.

"Amuse yourselves well, my children," I laughed, in French, and turned
away heart-whole.

This is an instance of the wisdom of Paragot. He smiled on the vanity of
my youth, and personally conducted me to the barrenness whither it led.
In this particular case the result was more positive still. Ewing in
admiration of my magnanimity at the time, and a fortnight later of my
profound knowledge of women--for he in his turn witnessed the alien
osculations of Fanchette--cultivated my friendship to the extent of
urging me to spend some of the summer recess at his father's country
vicarage in Somerset.

"But you'll have to get some other togs," said he, eyeing my attire
dubiously. "If you come like that to church on Sunday, my governor would
forget and want to baptise you. He was once a missionary, you know."

When I mentioned the invitation, Paragot insisted on acceptance.

"The Latin Quarter confers an exuberance of tone which conflicts with
the reposeful ideal of manners required in the _beau monde_ which I
destined you to grace when I took you from the maternal soapsuds. You
will find an English Parsonage exerts a repressive influence. But for
Heaven's sake don't fall in love with Ewing's eldest sister, who, I am
sure, is addicted to piety and good works. She will try to make a good
work of you and thus all my labour will have been in vain."

In his heart, however, I believe he was immensely proud at having
trained me to meet gentlefolk on more or less equal terms. Ewing's
invitation was a tribute to himself. To fit me for church on Sunday and
other functions of civilisation he took Ewing (as counsellor) and myself
to a tailor's and plunged enthusiastically into the details of my
outfit. I can see him now, shaggy and shabby, fingering stuffs with the
anxious solicitude of a woman at a draper's counter.

"That's a nice country suiting. It expresses its purpose, suggests the
right gaiety of mood. What says _Arbiter elegantiarum_?"

"Don't you think it might make the cart-horses shy?" says Ewing, and
Paragot drops reluctantly the thunder-and-lightning check that has
seized his unaccustomed fancy.

My wardrobe included a dress suit.

At Paragot's bidding, I donned it when it arrived, and on my way to him
transfixed the Rue des Saladiers with awe and wonder. Upstairs, Paragot
twirled me slowly round as if I were a mannequin on a pivot, and called
Blanquette to admire, and uttered strange oaths in the dozen languages
of which he was master. Was I not beautiful?

Blanquette admitted that I was. All that was most beautiful; without a
doubt. I resembled the stylish people who went to expensive funerals.
In fact, she added with a sigh, I was too beautiful.

She saw her brother Asticot transfigured into the resplendent gentleman
beyond her sphere, and sighed womanlike at my apotheosis. She could no
longer walk by my side, bareheaded, in the streets. The dress suit was a
symbol of change detested by woman. She gave the matter however her
practical attention.

"He ought to have patent-leather shoes," she observed.

"That's true," said Paragot, pulling his beard reflectively. "Ewing
should have mentioned it; but I have noticed a singular lack of
universality in the sons of English clergymen."

"And now my son," said he on the eve of my departure, "I too have the
nostalgia of green fields and the smell of hay and manure and the fresh
earth after rain. I have at last an inspiration. As this confounded
ankle will not let me walk, I shall hire a donkey and let him take me
whither he will. Narcisse shall accompany me."

"And Blanquette, will she trudge beside the donkey?"

"I have arranged for Blanquette to go into villégiatura at the farm of
La Haye."

"With Monsieur and Madame Dubosc?"

"Your logical faculty does you credit, my son. They are most excellent
people, although they could not tell me how many towers the Cathedral of
Chartres possessed. You will remember an excursion we made on Sunday,
and I lectured learnedly on the archæology of the fabric. My learning
impressed them less than my skill in curing a pig according to a
Dalmatian recipe. They will board and lodge Blanquette for ten francs a
week and she will be as happy as Marie Antoinette while haymaking at
the Petit Trianon. She will occupy herself with geese and turkeys while
I shall be riding my donkey."

"Master," said I, "I only have one fear. You will adopt that donkey and
bring it to live in the Rue des Saladiers."

Paragot laughed, drained his glass of absinthe and ordered another.



CHAPTER XV


THUS the three of us were again separated. Blanquette was enjoying
herself amongst the pigs and ducks of La Haye, whence she wrote letters
in which her joy in country things mingled with anxiety as to the
neglected condition of the Master; I led a pleasant but somewhat nervous
life in Somersetshire, spending hours in vain attempts to reconcile the
cosmic views of Paragot and an English vicar, and learning sometimes
with hot humiliation the correctitudes of English country vicarage
behaviour; and Paragot, his long legs dangling on each side of his
donkey, rode, as I thought, picturesquely vagrant, through the leafy
byways of France.

A fortnight after my arrival, however, he informed me by letter of his
resolve to stay in Paris. He had failed to find an ass of the true
vagabond character. The ideal ass he sought should be a companion as
well as a means of locomotion. He would not take an urban donkey into
the country against its will. To force any creature, man, woman, or ass,
out of the groove of its temperament were a crime of which he could not
be guilty. Then, again, Narcisse did not enter into the spirit of the
pilgrimage. He laid his head along his forepaws and glowered sullenly
instead of barking with enthusiasm. Again, when he announced his
intention of leaving Paris, Hercule groaned aloud and Madame Boin wept
so profusely that sitting beneath her counter he had to put up a
borrowed umbrella. Cazalet too, and a few others too poor for railway
fares, were staying in town. Also the Café Delphine had spoiled him for
the horrible alcohols of wayside cafés. And, lastly, what did it matter
where the body found itself so long as the soul had its serene
habitations?

The letter depressed me. I was beginning to see Paragot with the eyes of
a man. I felt that this inability to carry out an inspiration was a sign
of decay. The springs of action had weakened. Though the spirit thirsted
for sweet things, habit chained him to the squalor of the Café Delphine.
When the quiet Somersetshire household knelt around the drawing-room for
evening prayers, I speculated on the stage of intoxication at which my
lonely master had arrived.

I was a million miles from speculating on what was really happening, and
when I received a curt uncharacteristic note from Paragot a fortnight
later begging me to return to Paris at once, a day or two before the
formal expiry of my visit, it only occurred to me that he might be ill.

       *       *       *       *       *

The crowded train steamed into the Gare Saint-Lazare at half past seven
in the morning. I was desperately anxious to get to Paragot, and bag in
hand I stood with a sickening feeling of suspense by the open door,
waiting for the train to slow down. I sprang out. In an instant the line
of porters were odd dots of blue in the throng that swarmed out of the
carriages. I became a mere ant in the heap, and struggled with the
others towards the barrier. After giving up my ticket, I set down my bag
to rest my strained arm for a minute, and looked around me. Then I
noticed a stranger approaching whose smiling face had an air of uncanny
familiarity. Where had I seen the long gaunt man before? He wore a silk
hat and a frock coat. My acquaintance with silk-hatted gentlemen in
Paris was limited. I picked up my bag.

"Ah! My little Asticot," cried the stranger. "How good it is to see
you."

I dropped my bag. I dropped my jaw. I would have dropped my brains had
they been loose. This cadaverous image of respectability was
Paragot--but a Paragot transmogrified beyond recognition even by me. His
hair was cropped short. His face was clean shaven. On his transfigured
head shone a flat brimmed silk hat. He wore a villainously fitting frock
coat buttoned across his chest, with long wrinkly creases stretching
horizontally from each button. His hands were encased in lemon coloured
gloves a size too large for him. When he extended his hand even my
bewilderment did not blind me to the half-inch of flat dead tips to the
fingers. Beneath his arm was an umbrella--on a broiling August morning!
He wore spats--in mid-summer! His trousers were fawn coloured. I could
only gape at him as he wrung me by the hand.

"You are surprised, my son."

"I did not expect you to meet my train, Master," said I.

"If one could anticipate all the happenings of life it would lose its
fascination. My son, go your way and do your duty, but believe in the
unexpected."

"But what has happened?" I asked, again surveying his ill-fitting glory.

"The Comte de Verneuil is dead," he answered.

"Are you going to his funeral?"

"In these?" he cried holding up the lemon kids, "and this cravat?"

I noticed that he wore a floppy purple tie adorned with yellow spots,
outside the lapels of his coat. It required more than two glances to
take in all his detail.

"Besides," he added, "my distinguished patient was buried a fortnight
ago."

He looked at me with an amused smile, enjoying my mystification like a
child.

"You didn't know me."

"No, Master." I rubbed my eyes. "In fact I scarcely recognise you now."

"That is because I am again Gaston de Nérac," said he magnificently.

I had an idea that he must have come into the family fortune. But what
had the death of the Comte de Verneuil to do with it? I picked up my bag
again and walked with him to the exit. The hurrying crowd of passengers
by my train and of clerks and work-people pouring from suburban
platforms rendered conversation impossible.

At the station gates Paragot stood and watched the brisk life that
swarmed up and down the Rue Saint-Lazare and the Rue du Havre. Paris
awakens a couple of hours earlier than London. Clerks hurried by with
flat leather portfolios under their arms. Servants trotted to market, or
homewards, with the end of a long golden loaf protruding from their
baskets. Work-girls sped by in all directions. Omnibuses lumbered along
as at midday. Before the great cafés opposite, the tables were already
set out on the terrace and the awnings lowered, and white-aproned
waiters stood expectant. The whole scene was bathed in the gay morning
sunshine.

"It is good to be alive, Asticot," said my master. "It is good to be in
Paris. It is good to get up early. It is good to see the world's work
beginning. It is also good to feel infernally hungry and to have the
means of satisfying one's desires. But as, in the absence of Blanquette,
my establishment is disorganised, I think we had better have our
breakfast at a _crêmerie_ than in the Rue des Saladiers. We can talk
over our coffee."

I accompanied him across the street in a muddled condition of intellect,
casting sidelong glances at him from time to time, as if to assure
myself that he was real. Having just come from an English environment
where the niceties of costume were as rigidly observed as the niceties
of religion, I could not help marvelling at Paragot's attire. He looked
like a tenth-rate French provincial actor made up to represent a duke,
and in a country where none but actors and footmen are clean-shaven this
likeness was the more accentuated. Also the difference between Paragot
hairy and bearded and Paragot in his present callow state was that
between an old unbroken hazel nut and its bald, shrivelled kernel.

We entered the _crêmerie_, sat down and ordered our coffee and crisp
horse-shoe loaves. I think the _petit déjeuner_ at a _crêmerie_ is one
of the most daintily served meals in France. The morning dew glistens so
freshly on the butter, the fringed napkin is so spotless, the
wide-mouthed cups offer themselves so delicately generous. If everyone
breakfasted there crime would cease. No man could hatch a day's iniquity
amid such influences.

When we were half-way through, Paragot unbuttoned his frock coat and
took from his pocket a black-edged letter which he flourished before my
eyes. It was then that I noticed, to my great surprise, that he had cut
his finger-nails. I thought of Madame Boin.

"It is from the Comtesse de Verneuil, and it gives you the word of the
enigma."

"Yes, Master," said I, eyeing the letter.

"Confess, my little Asticot," he laughed, "that you are dying of
curiosity."

"You would tell me," said I, "that it was no death for a gentleman."

"You have a way of repeating my unsaid epigrams which delights me," said
he, throwing the letter on the table. "Read it."

I read as follows:

                                "CHÂTEAU MARLIER
                                      près de Nevers.
                                            13th Aug. 18--

          "MY DEAR GASTON:

          "The newspapers may have told you the news of my
          husband's death on the 1st August. Since then I
          have been longing to write to you but I have not
          found the strength. Yet I must.

          "Forgive me for the cruel things I said on the
          last unhappy night we met. I did not know what I
          do now. Before my husband died he told me the true
          circumstances of the money transaction. My husband
          bought me, it is true, Gaston, but you did not
          sell me. You sacrificed all to save my father from
          prison and me from disgrace. You have lived
          through everything a brave, loyal gentleman, and
          even on that hateful night you kept silent. But
          oh, my friend, what misery it has been to all of
          us!

          "I shall be in Paris on the 28th--Hôtel Meurice.
          If you care to see me will you make an
          appointment? I would meet you at any place you
          might suggest. The flat in the Avenue de Messine
          is dismantled and, besides, I shrink from going
          back there.       Yours sincerely,
                                   "JOANNA DE VERNEUIL."

"You see, my son, what she calls me--a brave, loyal gentleman," he
cried, with his pathetic boastfulness. "Thank Heaven she knows it. I
have kept the secret deep in my heart all these years. One must be a man
to do that, eh?" He thumped his heart and drank a draught of coffee.
Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

He eyed the brown stain disgustedly.

"That," said he, "is Paragot peeping out through Gaston de Nérac. You
will have observed that in the polite world they use table-napkins."

"The Comtesse de Verneuil," said I, bringing back the conversation to
more interesting matters, "writes that she will be in Paris on the 28th.
It was the 28th yesterday."

"I am aware of it. I have been aware of it for a fortnight. Yesterday I
had a long interview with Madame la Comtesse. It was very satisfactory.
To-day I pay her a ceremonious visit at eleven o'clock. At twelve I hope
you will also pay your respects and offer your condolences to Madame.
You ought to have a silk hat."

"But, Master," I laughed, "If I went down the Boul' Mich' in a silk hat,
I should be taken up for improper behaviour."

"You at least have gloves?"

"Yes, Master."

"Remember that in this country you wear both gloves while paying a call.
You also balance your hat on your knees."

"But Madame de Verneuil is English," I remarked.

"She has learned correct behaviour in France," he replied with the
solemnity of a professor of deportment. "You will have noticed in her
letter," he continued, "how delicately she implies that the Hôtel
Meurice would not be a suitable rendezvous. In my late incarnation I
doubtless should have surprised the Hôtel Meurice. I should have pained
the Head Porter. In my live character of Gaston de Nérac I command the
respect of flunkeydom. I give my card----"

He produced from his pocket and flourished in the air an ornate, heavily
printed visiting-card of somewhat the size and appearance of the Three
of Spades. I felt greatly awed by the sight of this final emblem of
respectability.

"I give my card," he repeated, "and the Hôtel Meurice prostrates itself
before me."

While Paragot was playing on the lighter side of the conjuncture, my
mind danced in wonder and delight. I read the letter, which he left in
my hands, several times over. He was cleared in Joanna's eyes; nay more,
he stood revealed a hero. The generous ardour of youth bedewed my
eyelids.

"Master," I cried, "this must be wonderful news for you."

He nodded over his coffee cup.

"You are right, my little Asticot; it is," he answered gravely.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I called at the Hôtel Meurice at noon, I was conducted with
embarrassing ceremony to Madame de Verneuil's private sitting-room, and
on my way I rehearsed, in some trepidation, the polite formula of
condolence which Paragot had taught me. When I entered, the sight of
Joanna's face drove polite formulæ out of my head. She was dressed in
black, it is true, but the black only set off the shell pink of her
cheeks and the blue of her eyes which were no longer frozen, but laughed
at me, as if a visit of condolence were the gayest event possible.

"It is so good of you, Mr. Asticot, to come and see me. Mr. de Nérac
tells me you have travelled straight from Somerset in order to do it.
How is the West Country looking? I am of the West Country myself--one of
these days you will let me shew it you. I like him much better, Gaston,
dressed like an Englishman, instead of in that dreadful student get-up,
which makes him look like a brigand. Yes, England has agreed with him.
Oh! do take off your gloves and put your hat down. I am not a French
mamma with a daughter whose hand you are asking. Gaston, I am sure you
told him to keep on his gloves!"

"I am responsible for his decorum, Joanna," said my Master, solemnly.

I noticed that he too had discarded hat, gloves and umbrella which lay
forlorn on a distant table. Still his coat was buttoned, and he sat bolt
upright on his chair. Madame de Verneuil's silvery voice rippled on. She
was girlishly excited.

"I have persuaded Mr. de Nérac to lunch with me," she said happily. "And
you must do the same. Will you ring the bell? We'll have it up here. And
now tell me about Somerset."

Never was there a sweeter lady than mine. Yes, I call her mine; and with
reason. Was she not the first vision of gracious womanhood that came
into my childhood's world? Up to then woman to me was my mother and Mrs.
Housekeeper. Joanna sprang magically, as in an Arabian Night, out of an
old stocking. Never was there a sweeter lady than mine. She welcomed me
as if such things as wash-tubs, tambourines, Café Delphines and
absinthiated Paragots had never existed, and I were one of her own
people.

"How I long to get back," she cried when I had told her of my modest
exploits at the Ewings. "I have not been to Melford for five years. When
will you come, Gaston?"

They had evidently made good use of their previous interviews.

"I am going to live in England," she explained. "At first I shall stay
with my mother at Melford. She is an old friend of Mr. de Nérac's. Oh,
Gaston, she does so want to see you--I have told her the whole story--of
course she knew all my poor father's affairs. And I have a cousin whose
people live at Melford too, Major Walters--I don't think you know him--a
dear fellow. He has just been at Nevers helping me to settle up things.
He is my trustee. You must be great friends."

"I remember the name," said Paragot.

"Why of course you ought to," she cried prettily with a laugh and a
blush. "I had forgotten. You were pleased to be jealous of him. Mr.
Asticot, you will have to forgive us for dragging memories out of the
dust heap. It is all so very long ago. Dear me!" Her face grew pathetic.
"It is very long ago, Gaston."

"Thirteen years," said he.

I calculated. Joanna was a grown-up woman about to be married when my
age was six. I suddenly felt very young indeed.

The waiters set the lunch. Joanna, most perfect of hostesses, presided
gaily, cracked little jokes for my entertainment and inspired me with
the power of quite elegant conversation. Paragot preserved his correct
demeanour and, to my puzzledom, spoke very little. I wondered whether
the repressive influence lay in the spats or the purple cravat with the
yellow spots. As a painter I didn't like the cravat. He drank a great
deal of water with his wine. I noticed him once pause in the act of
conveying to his mouth a bit of bread held in his fingers with which he
had mopped up the sauce in his plate, and furtively conceal it between
his cutlet bones--a manoeuvre which, at the time, I could not
understand. In the _Quartier Latin_ we cleaned our plates to a bright
polish with bits of bread. How else could you consume the sauce?

At the end of the meal Joanna gave us permission to smoke.

"I won't smoke, thank you," said Paragot politely.

"Rubbish!" laughed Joanna, whereupon Paragot produced a cigarette case
from the breast pocket of his frock coat. Paragot and a cigarette-case!
Once more it was _abracadabrant_! He also refused cognac with his
coffee.

After a time, still feeling that I was very young, and that my seniors
might have further confidential things to say to each other, I rose to
take my leave. Paragot rose too.

"I would ask you to stay, Gaston, if I hadn't my wretched lawyer to see
this afternoon. But you'll come in for an hour after dinner, won't you?
No one knows I'm in Paris. Besides, at this time of year there is no one
in Paris to know."

"Willingly," said Paragot, "but _les convenances_----"

Joanna's pretty lips parted in astonishment.

"You--preaching the proprieties?--My dear Gaston!"

I turned to the window and looked at the Tuileries Gardens which baked
in the afternoon sun. The two spoke a little in low voices, but I could
not help overhearing.

"Is it true, Gaston, that you have wanted me all these years?"

"I want you as much now as I did then."

"I, too," whispered Joanna.



CHAPTER XVI


AS we emerged from the Hôtel Meurice I turned instinctively to the left.
Paragot drew me to the right.

"Henceforward," said he, "I resume the Paris which is my birthright. We
will forget for a moment that there are such places as the Boulevard
Saint-Michel and the Rue des Saladiers."

We walked along the Rue de Rivoli and taking the Rue Royale passed the
Madeleine and arrived at the Café de la Paix. It was a broiling
afternoon. The cool terrace of the café invited the hot wayfarer to
repose.

"Master," said I, "isn't it almost time for your absinthe?"

He raised his lemon kids as if he would ban the place.

"My little Asticot, I have abjured absinthe and forsworn cafés. I have
broken my new porcelain pipe and have cut my finger-nails. As I enter on
the path of happiness, I scatter the dregs and shreds and clippings of
the past behind me. I divest myself of all the crapulous years."

If he had divested himself of the superfluous trappings of
respectability beneath which he was perspiring freely, I thought he
would have been happier. The sight of the umbrella alone made one feel
moist, to say nothing of the spats.

"We might have some grenadine syrup," I suggested ironically.

"Willingly," said he.

So we sat and drank grenadine syrup and water. He gave me the impression
of a cropped lion sucking lollipops.

"It is peculiarly nasty and unsatisfying," he remarked after a sip, "but
doubtless I shall get used to it. I shall have to get used to a devil of
a lot of things, my son. As soon as the period of her widowhood has
elapsed I hope to marry Madame de Verneuil."

"Marry Madame de Verneuil?" I cried, the possibility of such an
occurrence never having crossed my mind.

"Why not? When two people of equal rank love and are free to marry, why
should they not do so? Have you any objection?"

"No, Master," said I.

"I shall resume my profession," he announced, lighting a cigarette, "and
in the course of a year or two regain the position to which an ancient
_Prix de Rome_ is entitled."

I was destined that day to go from astonishment to astonishment.

"You a _Prix de Rome_, Master?"

"Yes, my son, in Architecture."

He was clothed in a new and sudden radiance. To a Paris art student a
_Prix de Rome_ is what a Field Marshal is to a private soldier, a Lord
Chancellor to the eater of dinners in the Temple. I must confess that
though my passionate affection for him never wavered, yet my childish
reverence had of late waned in intensity. I saw his faults, which is
incompatible with true hero-worship. But now he sprang to cloud summits
of veneration. I looked awe-stricken at him and beheld nothing but an
ancient _Prix de Rome_. Then I remembered our enthusiasm over the Palace
of Dipsomania.

"They said you were an architect that night at the Café Delphine," I
exclaimed.

"I was a genius," said Paragot modestly. "I used to think in palaces.
Most men's palaces are little buildings written big. My small buildings
were palaces reduced. I could have roofed in the whole of Paris with a
dome. My first commission was to put a new roof on a Baptist Chapel in
Ireland. It was then that I met Madame de Verneuil after an interval of
five years. We are second cousins. Her father and my mother were first
cousins. I have known her since she was born. When I was at Rugby, I
spent most of my holidays at her house. You must take all this into
account, my little Asticot, before you begin to criticise my plans for
the future."

By this time the nerve or brain cell whereby one experiences the
sensation of amazement was numb. If Paragot had informed me that he had
been a boon companion of King Qa and had built the pyramids of Egypt I
should not have been surprised. I could only record the various facts.

Paragot was at Rugby.

Paragot was Joanna's second cousin.

Paragot was a _Prix de Rome_.

Paragot was a genius who had put a new roof to a Baptist Chapel in
Ireland.

Paragot was going to marry Joanna.

How he proposed to start in practice at his age, with no connection, I
did not at the moment enquire. Neither did Paragot. It was Paragot's
easy way to leap to ends and let the means take care of themselves. He
drained his glass meditatively and then with a wry face spat on the
ground.

"If I don't have a cognac, my little Asticot," said he, "I shall be
sick. To-morrow I may be able to swallow syrup without either salivation
or the adventitious aid of alcohol."

He summoned the languid waiter and ordered _fine champagne_. Everything
seemed languid this torrid afternoon, except the British or American
tourists who passed by with Baedekers under their arms. The cab-horses
in the file opposite us dropped their heads and the glazed-hatted cabmen
regarded the baking Place de l'Opéra with more than their usual apathy.
It looked more like the market place of a sleepy provincial town than
the heart of Paris. When the waiter had brought the little glass in a
saucer and the _verseur_ had poured out the brandy, Paragot gulped it
down and cleared his throat noisily. I drowsed in my chair, feeling
comfortably tired after my all night journey. Suddenly I awakened to the
fact that Paragot was telling me the story of Joanna and the Comte de
Verneuil.

She was exquisite. She was fragrant. She was an English rosebud wet with
morning-dew. She had all manner of attributes with which I was perfectly
well acquainted. They loved with the ardour of two young and noble
souls. (Your ordinary Englishman would not thus proclaim the nobility of
his soul; but Paragot, remember, was half French--and Gascon to
boot--and the other half Irish.) It was more than love--it was a
consuming passion; which was odd in the case of an English rosebud wet
with morning-dew. However, I suppose Paragot meant that he swept the
beloved maiden off her feet with his own vehemence; and indeed she must
have loved him truly. He was fresh from the Villa Medici, the Paradise
where all the winners of the _Prix de Rome_ in the various arts complete
their training; he had won an important competition; fortune smiled on
him; he had only to rule lines on drawing paper to become one of the
great ones of the earth. He became engaged to Joanna.

Now, Joanna's father, Simon Rushworth, was a London solicitor in very
fashionable practice; a man of false geniality, said Paragot, who smiled
at you with lips but seemed always to be looking at some hell over your
shoulder. He also promoted companies, and the Comte de Verneuil, an
Anglo-French financier, stood ever by his elbow, using him as his tool
and dupe and drawer in general of chestnuts from the fire. The Comte
wanted to marry Joanna, "which was absurd, seeing that I was his rival,"
said Paragot simply.

One of Mr. Rushworth's companies failed. Mr. Rushworth's fashionable
clients grew alarmed. He gave a party in honour of Joanna's engagement
and invited all his clients. Ugly rumours spread among the guests. The
presage of disaster was in the air. Paragot began to suspect the truth.
It was a hateful party. The band in the garden played selections from
"Orphée aux Enfers," and the mocking refrain accompanied the last words
he was to have with Joanna. The Comte de Verneuil called him aside,
explained Rushworth's position. Ten thousand pounds of his clients'
money which he held in trust had gone in the failure of the company. If
that amount was not at his disposal the next morning, he was finished,
snuffed out. It appeared that no one in Paris or London would lend him
the money, his credit being gone. Unless M. de Nérac could find the ten
thousand pounds there was the gaol yawning with horrible certainty for
M. de Nérac's prospective father-in-law. As Paragot's patrimony,
invested in French government securities, was not a third of this sum,
he could do nothing but wring his hands in despair and call on
Providence and the Comte de Verneuil. The former turned a deaf ear. The
latter declared himself a man of business and not a philanthropist; he
was ready however to purchase an option on the young lady's affections.
Did not M. de Nérac know what an option was? He would explain. He
drafted the famous contract. In return for Paragot's signature he would
hand him a cheque drawn in favour of Simon Rushworth.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" cried Paragot, banging the marble table, with his fist,
"Do you see in what a vice he held me? He was a devil, that man! The
only human trait about him was a passion for rare apes of which he had a
collection at Nevers. Thank Heaven they are dead! Thank Heaven he is
dead! Thank Heaven he lost most of the money for which he preyed on his
kind. He was a vulture, a scaly-headed vulture. He was the carrion kite
above every rotten financial concern in London and Paris. That which
went near to ruin my poor vain fool of a father-in-law filled his
bulging pockets. I hated him living and I hate him dead!"

He tore open his frock coat and pushed the flat brimmed silk hat to the
back of his head and waved his lemon kids in his old extravagant
gestures.

"What did the stolen ten thousand pounds matter to him? It mattered
prison to Rushworth, Joanna's father--think of the horror of it! She
would have died from the disgrace--her mother too. And the devil jested,
Asticot. He talked of Rushworth being smitten with the slings and black
arrows of outrageous fortune. _Nom de Dieu_, I could have strangled him!
But what could I do? Two years! To go out of her life for two years as
if I had been struck dead! Yet after two years I could come back and say
what I chose. I signed the contract. I went out of the house. I kept my
word. _Noblesse oblige._ I was Gaston de Nérac. I came back to Paris. I
worked night and day for eighteen months. I had genius. I had hope. I
had youth. I had faith. She would never marry the Comte de Verneuil. She
would not marry anybody. I counted the days. Meanwhile he posed as the
saviour of Simon Rushworth. He poisoned Joanna's mind against me. He
lied, invented infamies. This I have heard lately. He confessed it all
to her before the devil took him as a play-fellow. Of one who had so
cruelly treated her all things were possible. She half believed them. At
last he told her I was dead. An acquaintance had found me in a Paris
hospital and had paid for my funeral. She had no reason for disbelief.
He pressed his suit. Her father and mother urged her--the fool Rushworth
soon afterwards came to another crisis, and de Verneuil again stepped in
and demanded Joanna as the price. She is gentle. She has a heart
tenderer than that of any woman who ever lived. One day I heard she had
married him. My God! It is thirteen years ago."

He poured some water into the syrup glass and gulped it down. I remained
silent. I had never seen him give way to violent emotion--save
once--when he broke the fiddle over Mr. Pogson's head.

Presently he said with a whimsical twist of his lips:

"You may have heard me speak of a crusader's mace."

"Yes, Master."

"That's when I used it. I had an inspiration," he remarked quietly.

"Master," said I after a while, "if Madame de Verneuil believed you to
be dead, it must have been a shock to her when she saw you alive at
Aix-les-Bains."

"She learned soon after her marriage that her husband had been mistaken.
Her mother had caught sight of me in Venice. Madame de Verneuil never
forgave him the lie. She is gentle, my son, but she has character."

It was after that, I think, that the frozen look came into her eyes.
Thenceforward she was ice to the Comte de Verneuil, who for pleasant,
domestic companionship had to resort to his rare apes. No wonder his
madness took the form of the fixed idea that he had murdered Paragot.

"After all," he mused, "there must have been some good in the man. He
desired to make amends. He sent me the old contract, so that his wife
should not find it after his death. He confessed everything to her
before he died. There is a weak spot somewhere in the heart of the Devil
himself. I shouldn't wonder if he were devoted to a canary."

"Master," said I, suddenly bethinking me of the canary in the Rue des
Saladiers, "if you marry Madame de Verneuil, what will become of
Blanquette?"

"She will come and live with us, of course."

"H'm!" said I.

Respect forbade downright contradiction. I could only marvel mutely at
his pathetic ignorance of woman. Indeed, his reply gave me the shock of
an unexpected stone wall. He, who had but recently taught me the chart
of Fanchette's soul, to be unaware of elementary axioms! Did I not
remember Joanna's iciness at Aix-les-Bains when I told her of his
adoption of my zither-playing colleague? Was I not aware of poor
Blanquette's miserable jealousy of the beautiful lady who enquired for
her master? To bring these two together seemed, even to my boy's mind, a
ludicrous impossibility. Yet Paragot spoke with the unhumorous gravity
of a Methodist parson and the sincerity of a maiden lady with a mission
to obtain good situations for deserving girls; a man, so please you, who
had gone into the holes and corners of the Continent of Europe in search
of Truth, who had come face to face with human nature naked and
unashamed, who had run the gamut of femininity from our rare princess
Joanna to the murderer's widow of Prague; a man who ought to have had so
sensitive a perception that the most subtle and elusive harmonies of
woman were as familiar to him as their providential love of babies or
their ineradicable passion for new hats.

He lit another cigarette, having dallied in a somewhat youthful fashion
with the newly acquired case, and blew two or three contented puffs.

"I believe in the Roman conception of the _familia_, my son. You and
Blanquette are included in mine. You being a man must go outside the
world and make your way; but Blanquette, being a woman, must remain
under the roof of the _paterfamilias_ which is myself."

I foresaw trouble.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he left me after dinner to pay his promised visit to Joanna, I went
in quest of Cazalet of the sandals, with whom I spent a profitable
evening discussing the question of Subject in Art. Bringard and Bonnet
and himself had rented a dilapidated stable in Menilmontant which they
had fitted up as a studio, and, as his two colleagues were away, Cazalet
had displayed his own horrific canvases all over the place. The
argument, if I remember right, was chiefly concerned with Cazalet's
subject in art over which we fought vehemently; but though the sabre of
his father hung proudly on the wall, he did not challenge me to a duel.
Instead, he invited me to join the trio in the rent of the studio, and
I, suddenly struck with the advantage and importance of having a studio
of my own, gladly accepted the proposal. When one can say "my studio,"
one feels that one is definitely beginning one's professional career. I
left him to sleep on some contrivance of sacking which he called a bed,
and trudged homewards to the Boulevard Saint-Michel. Curiosity tempted
me to look into the Café Delphine. It was deserted. Madame Boin opened
her fat arms wide and had it not been for the intervening counter would
have clasped me to her bosom. What had become of Monsieur Paragot? It
was more than a fortnight since he had been in the café. I lied, drank a
glass of beer and went home. I could not take away Paragot's character
by declaring his reversion to respectability.



CHAPTER XVI


MY taking the share of the stable-studio in Menilmontant had one
unlooked-for result.

"You must paint my portrait," said Joanna.

"Madame," I cried, "if I only could!"

"What is your charge for portraits, Mr. Asticot?"

Paragot set down his tea-cup and looked at me with a shade of anxiety.
We were having tea at the Hôtel Meurice.

"The pleasure of looking a long time at the sitter, Madame," said I.

"That is very well said, my son," Paragot remarked.

"You will not make a fortune that way. However, if you _will_ play for
love this time--"

She smiled and handed me the cakes.

"Where did you say your studio was?"

"But, Madame, you can't go there!" I expostulated. "It is in the slums
of Menilmontant beyond the Cemetery of Père Lachaise. The place is all
tumbling down--and Cazalet sleeps there."

"Who is Cazalet?"

"A yellow-haired Caliban in sandals," said Paragot.

Joanna clapped her hands like a child.

"I should love to go. Perhaps Mr. de Nérac would come with me, and
protect me from Caliban. If you won't," she added seeing that Paragot
was about to raise an objection, "I will go by myself."

"There are no chairs to sit upon," I said warningly.

"I will sit upon Caliban," she declared.

Thus it came to pass that I painted the portrait of Madame de Verneuil
in periods of ecstatic happiness and trepidation. She came every day and
sat with unwearying patience on what we called the model throne, the one
comfortless wooden arm-chair the studio possessed, while Paragot mounted
guard near by on an empty box. Everything delighted her--the approach
through the unsavoury court-yard, the dirty children, the crazy
interior, Cazalet's ghastly and unappreciated masterpieces, even Cazalet
himself, who now and then would slouch awkwardly about the place trying
to hide his toes. She expressed simple-hearted wonder at the mysteries
of my art, and vowed she saw a speaking likeness in the first stages of
chaotic pinks and blues. I have never seen a human being so inordinately
contented with the world.

"I am like a prisoner who has been kept in the dark and is let out free
into the sunshine," she said one day to Paragot, who had remarked on her
gaiety. "I want to run about and dance and smell flowers and clap my
hands."

In these moments of exuberance she seemed to cast off the shadow of the
years and become a girl again. I regarded her as my contemporary; but
Paragot with his lined time-beaten face looked prematurely old. Only now
and then, when he got into fierce argument with Cazalet and swung his
arms about and mingled his asseverations with the quaint oaths of the
Latin Quarter, did he relax his portentous gravity.

"That is just how he used to go on," she laughed confidentially to me,
her pink-shell face close to mine. "He was a whirlwind. He carried
everybody off their feet."

She caught my eye, smiled and flushed. I quite understood that it was
she who had been carried off her feet by my tempestuous master.

"_Mais sacré mille cochons, tu n'y comprends rien du tout!_" cried
Paragot, at that moment. I, knowing that this was not a proper
expression to use before ladies, kept up the confidential glance for a
second.

"I hope he didn't use such dreadful language."

"You couldn't in English, could you? He always spoke English to me. In
French it is different. I like it. What did he say? _'Sacré mille
cochons'!_"

She imitated him delightfully. You have no idea what a dainty musical
phrase this peculiarly offensive expletive became when uttered by her
lips.

"After all," she said, "it only means 'sacred thousand pigs'--but why
aren't you painting, Mr. Asticot?"

"Because you have got entirely out of pose, Madame."

Whereupon it was necessary to fix her head again, and my silly fingers
tingled as they touched her hair. It is a good thing for a boy of
nineteen to be romantically in love with Joanna. He can thus live
spiritually beyond his means, without much danger of bankruptcy, and his
extravagance shall be counted to him for virtue. Also if he is painting
the princess of his dreams, he has such an inspiration as is given but
to the elect, and what skill he is possessed of must succeed in its
purpose.

One morning she found on her arrival a bowl of roses, which I had bought
in the markets, placed against her chair on the dais. She uttered a
little cry of pleasure and came to me both hands outstretched. Taking
mine, she turned her head, in an adorable attitude, half upwards to
Paragot.

"I believe it is Mr. Asticot who is in love with me, Gaston. Aren't you
jealous?"

I blushed furiously. Paragot smiled down on her.

"Hasn't every man you met fallen in love with you since you were two
years old?"

"I forgive you," she cried, "because you still can make pretty speeches.
Thank you for the roses, Mr. Asticot. If I wore one would you paint it
in? Or would it spoil your colour scheme?"

I selected the rose which would best throw up the pink sea-shell of her
face, and she put it gaily in her corsage. She pirouetted up to the dais
and with a whisk of skirts seated herself on the throne.

"If any of my French friends and relations knew I were doing this they
would die of shock. It's lovely to defy conventions for a while. One
will soon have to yield to them."

"Conventions are essential for the smooth conduct of social affairs,"
remarked Paragot.

She looked at him quizzically. "My dear Gaston, if you go on cultivating
such unexceptional sentiments, they'll turn _you_ into a churchwarden as
soon as you set foot in Melford."

I had seen, for the first time in my life, a churchwarden in Somerset, a
local cheesemonger of appalling correctitude. If Paragot ever came to
resemble him, he was lost. There would be an entity who had passed
through Paragot's experiences; but there would be no more Paragot.

"You must save him, Madame," I cried, "from being made a churchwarden."

Paragot lit a cigarette. I watched the first few puffs, awaiting a
repartee. None came. I felt a qualm of apprehension. Was he already
becoming de-Paragot-ised? I did not realise then what it means to a man
to cast aside the slough of many years' decay, and take his stand clean
before the world. He shivers, is liable to catch cold, like the tramp
whose protective hide of filth is summarily removed in the workhouse
bath. Nor did my dear lady realise this. How could she, bright freed
creature, hungering after the long withheld joyousness of existence, and
overwilling to delude herself into the belief that every shadow was a
ray of sunlight? She had no notion of the man's grotesque struggles to
conceal the shivering sensitiveness of his roughly cleaned soul.

She twitted him merrily.

"You can argue like a tornado with Monsieur Cazalet, but you think I
must be talked to like this country's _jeune fille à marier_. Isn't he
perverse, Mr. Asticot? I think I am quite as entertaining as Caliban."

Well you see, when he talked to Cazalet, he slipped on the slough again
and was comfortable.

He waited for a moment or two as if he were composing a speech, and then
rose and drawing near her, said in a low voice, thinking that as I was
absorbed in my painting I could not hear:--

"This new happiness is too overwhelming for fantastic talk."

"Oh no it isn't," she declared in a whisper. "We have put back time
thirteen years--we wipe out of our minds all that has happened in them,
and start just where we left off. You were fantastic enough then, in all
conscience."

"I had the world at my feet and I kicked it about like a football." He
hunched up his shoulders in a helpless gesture. "Somehow the football
burst and became a helpless piece of leather."

"I haven't the remotest idea what you mean," laughed Joanna.

"Madame," said I, "if you turn your head about like that I shall get you
all out of drawing."

"Oh dear," said Joanna, resuming her pose.

These were enchanted days, I think, for all of us. Even Cazalet felt the
influence and put on a pair of gaudily striped socks over which his
sandals would not fit. Joanna was very tender to him, as to everybody,
but she appeared to draw her skirts around her on passing him by, as if
he were a slug, which she did not love but could not harm for the world.
Paragot, having for some absurd reason forsworn his porcelain pipe,
smoked the cigarette of semi-contentment and fulfilled his happiness by
the contemplation of Joanna and myself. I verily believe he was more at
his ease when I was with them. As for the portrait, he viewed its
progress with enthusiastic interest. Now and then he would forget
himself and discourse expansively on its merits, to the delight of
Joanna. He regarded it as his own production. Had he not bought this
poor little devil and all his works for half-a-crown? Ergo, the work
taking shape on the canvas was his, Paragot's. What could be more
logical? And it was he who had given me my first lessons. No mother
showing off a precocious brat to her gossips could have displayed more
overweening pride. It was pathetic, and I loved him for it, and so did
Joanna.

The time came however--all too soon---when Madame de Verneuil could live
in her Land of Cockaigne no longer. Convention claimed her. Her cousin,
Major Walters, was coming from England to aid her in final arrangements
with the lawyers, and he was to carry her off in a day or two to
Melford. At the end of the last sitting she looked round the dismal
place--it had discoloured, uneven, bulging whitewashed walls, an
unutterably dirty loose plank floor, and a skylight patched with maps of
hideous worlds on Mercator's projection, and was furnished with packing
cases and grime and the sacking which was Cazalet's bed--and sighed
wistfully, as if she had been an unoffending Eve thrust out of Eden.

"I have been so happy here," she said to me. "I wonder whether I shall
ever be so happy again! Do you think I shall?"

I noticed her give a swift, sidelong glance--almost imperceptible--at
Paragot, who had sauntered down the studio to look at one of Cazalet's
pictures.

"The first time you saw me," she added, as I found nothing to say, "you
announced that you were learning philosophy. Haven't you learned enough
yet to answer me?"

"Madame," I replied, driven into a corner, "happiness is such an awfully
funny thing. You find it when you least expect it, and when you expect
it you often don't find it."

"Is that supposed to be comforting or depressing, Mr. Asticot?"

"I think we had better ask my master, Madame," I said. "He can tell you
better than I."

But she shook her head and did not ask Paragot.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My son," said Paragot that evening by his window in the Rue des
Saladiers, trying to disintegrate some fresh air from the fetid odours
that rose from the narrow street below, "you have won Madame de
Verneuil's heart. You are a lucky little Asticot. And I am proud of you
because I made you. You are a proof to her that I haven't spent all my
life in absorbing absinthe and omitting to decorate Europe with palaces.
Instead of bricks and mortar I have worked in soul-stuff and my
masterpiece is an artist,--and a great artist, by the Lord God!" he
cried with sudden access of passion, "if you will keep 'the sorrowful
great gift' pure and undefiled as a good woman does her chastity. You
must help me in my work, my son. Let me be able to point to you as the
one man in the world who does not prostitute his art for money or
reputation, who sees God beneath a leper's skin and proclaims Him
bravely, who reveals the magical beauty of humanity and compels the fool
and the knave and the man with the muck-rake and the harlot to see it,
and sends them away with hope in their hearts, and faith in the destiny
of the race and charity to one another--let me see this, my son, and by
heavens! I shall have done more with my life than erect a temple made by
hands--and I shall have justified my existence. You will do this for me,
Asticot?"

I was young. I was impressionable. I loved the man with a passionate
gratitude. I gave my promise. Heaven knows I have tried to keep it--with
what success is neither here nor there.

The fantastic element in the psychological state of Paragot I did not
consider then, but now it moves me almost to tears. Just think of it. I
was his one _apologia pro vita sua_; his one good work which he
presented with outstretched hands and pleading eyes, to Joanna. I love
the man too well to say more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de Verneuil went away leaving both of us desolate. Even the
prospect of visiting Melford a month hence--at Mrs. Rushworth's cordial
invitation--only intermittently raised Paragot's spirits. It did not
affect mine at all. I felt that a glory had faded from Menilmontant.
Still, I had the portrait to finish, and the preliminary sketches to
make of a deuce of a mythological picture for which Cazalet and
Fanchette (who for want of better company had become addicted during
August to my colleague) were to serve as models. I had my head and hands
full of occupation, whereas the reorganized Paragot had none. He talked
in a great way of resuming his profession, and even went the length of
buying drawing-paper and pins, and drawing-board and T-squares and
dividers and other working tools of the architect. But as a man cannot
design a palace or a pigstye and put it on the market as one can a book
or a picture, he made little headway with his project. He obtained the
conditions of an open competition for an Infectious Diseases Hospital
somewhere in Auvergne, and talked grandiosely about this for a day or
two; but when he came to set out the plan he found that he knew nothing
whatever about the modern requirements of such a building and cared
less.

"I will wait, my son, until there is something worthy of an artist's
endeavour. A Palace of Justice in an important town, or an Opera House.
Hospitals for infectious diseases do not inspire one, and I need
inspiration. Besides, the visit to Melford would break the continuity of
my work. I begin, my son Asticot, when I come back, and then you will
see. An ancient Prix de Rome, _nom de nom!_ has artistic
responsibilities. He must come back in splendour like Holger Danske when
he wakes from his enchanted slumber to conquer the earth."

Poor Holger Danske! When he does wake up he will find his conquering
methods a trifle out of date. Paragot did not take this view of his
simile. I believed him, however, and looked forward to the day when his
winning design for a cathedral would strike awe into a flabbergasted
world.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My son," said he a day or two after he had resolved upon this
Resurrection in State, "I want Blanquette. An orderly household cannot
be properly conducted by the intermittent ministrations of a concierge."

Our good Blanquette, believing as I had done, that the Master was riding
about France on a donkey, was still in villégiatura with our farmer
friends near Chartres, and in order that she should have as long a
holiday as possible he had hitherto forbidden me to enlighten her as to
his change of project.

"Besides," he added, "Blanquette has a place in my heart which the
concierge hasn't. I also want those I love to share the happiness that
has fallen to my lot. You will write to her my son and ask whether she
wants to come home."

"She will take the first train," said I.

"Blanquette is a curious type of the absolute feminine," he remarked.
"She is never happier than when she can regard us as a couple of babies.
Her greatest delight would be to wash us and feed us with a spoon."

"Master," said I, somewhat timidly, "I think Blanquette is sometimes
just a little bit miserable because you don't seem to care for her."

He regarded me in astonishment.

"I not care for Blanquette? But you ridiculous little lump of idiocy!
will you never understand? She, like you, is part of myself." He thumped
his chest as usual. "In the name of petticoats, what does she want? In
Russia I met an honest German artisan who had married a peasant girl.
After a month's unclouded existence she broke down beneath the load of
misery. Her husband didn't love her. Why? Because they had been married
a whole month and he hadn't beaten her yet! Does the child want me to
beat her? I believe lots of women do. And you, mindless little donkey,
what do you want me to make of her? Your head is full of the
imbecilities of the studio. Because I keep her here like my daughter,
and have not made her my mistress, you take it upon yourself to conclude
that I have no affection for her. Bah! You know nothing. You have lived
with me all these years, and you know nothing whatever about me. You
don't even know Blanquette. Beneath an unprepossessing exterior she has
a heart of gold. She has every large-souled quality that a woman can
stuff into her nature. She would live on cheese-rind and egg shells, if
she thought it would benefit either of us. I not care for Blanquette?
You shall see."

So the following afternoon when we met Blanquette's train at the Gare
Saint-Lazare, Paragot had taken her into his arms and planted a kiss on
each of her broad cheeks before she realised who the magnificent,
clean-shaven welcomer in the silk hat really was.

When he released her, she stared at him even as I had done.

"_Mais--qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?_" she cried, and I am sure that the
comfort of his kisses was lost in her entire bewilderment.

"It is the Master, Blanquette," said I.

"I know, but you are no longer the same. I shouldn't have recognised
you."

"Do you prefer me as I used to be?"

"_Oui, Monsieur_," said Blanquette.

I burst out laughing.

"She is saying '_Monsieur_' to the silk hat."

"_Méchant!_" she scolded. "But it is true." She turned to the master and
asked him how he had enjoyed his holiday.

"I never went, my little Blanquette."

"You have been in Paris all the time?"

"Yes."

"And you only send for me now? But _mon Dieu!_--how have you been
living?"

Visions of hideous upheaval in the Rue des Saladiers floated before her
mind, and she hurried forward as if there was no time to be lost in
getting there. When we arrived she held up horror-stricken hands. The
dust! The dirt! The state of the kitchen! The Master's bedroom! Oh no,
decidedly she would not leave him again! She would only go to the
country after she had seen him well started in the train with a ticket
for a long way beyond Paris. There was a week's work in front of her.

"Anyway, my little Blanquette," said Paragot, "you are glad to be with
me?"

"It is never of my own free will that I would leave you," she replied.



CHAPTER XVIII


"YOU perceive," said Paragot, waving a complacent hand, as soon as
Blanquette had retired to make the necessary purchases for the evening
meal, "you perceive that she is perfectly happy. You were entirely
wrong. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

When my master adopted the Panglossian view of the universe I used no
arguments that might cloud his serenity. I acquiesced with mental
reservations. We talked for a time, Paragot sitting primly on a
straight-backed chair. He had abandoned his sprawling attitudes, for
fear, I suspect, of spoiling his new clothes. The position, however, not
making for ease of conversation, he presently took up a book and began
to read, while I amused myself idly by making a furtive sketch of him.
Since his metamorphosis he was by no means the entertaining companion of
his unregenerate days. He himself was oppressed, I fancy, by his own
correctitude. The eternal reading which filled so much of his life did
not afford him the same wholehearted enjoyment now, as it did when he
lolled dishevelled, pipe in mouth and glass within reach, on bed or
sofa. This afternoon, I noticed, he yawned and fidgeted in his chair,
and paid to his book the distracted attention of a person reading a back
number of a magazine in a dentist's waiting room. My sketch, which I
happen to have preserved, shows a singularly bored Paragot. At last he
laid the book aside, and gathering together hat, gloves, and umbrella,
the precious appanages of his new estate, he announced his intention of
taking the air before dinner. I remained indoors to gossip with
Blanquette during its preparation. I had considerable doubts as to her
optimistic view of things, and these were confirmed as soon as the outer
door closed behind my master, and the salon door opened to admit
Blanquette.

She came to me with an agitated expression on her face which did not
accord with perfect happiness of spirit.

"_Dis donc, Asticot_," she cried. "What does it mean? Why did the master
not go on his holiday? Why did he not send for me? Why has he cut off
his hair and beard and dressed himself like a _Monsieur_? I know very
well the master is a gentleman, but why has he changed from what he used
to be?"

I temporised. "My dear," said I, "when you first knew me I wore a blue
blouse and boots with wooden soles. Almost the last time you had the
happiness of beholding me, I was clad in the purple and fine linen of a
dress-suit. You weren't alarmed at my putting on civilised garments, why
should you be excited at the master doing the same?"

"If you talk like the master, I shall detest you," exclaimed Blanquette.
"You do it because you are hiding something. _Ah, mon petit frère_," she
said with a change of tone and putting her arm round my neck, "tell me
what is happening. He is going to be married to the beautiful lady, eh?"

She looked into my eyes. Hers were deep and brown and a world of pain
lay behind them. I am a bad liar. She freed me roughly.

"I see. It is true. He is going to be married. He does not want me any
longer. It is all finished. O _mon Dieu, mon Dieu_! What is to become of
me?"

She wept, rubbing away the tears with her knuckles. I tried to comfort
her and lent her my pocket-handkerchief. She need have no fear, I said.
As long as the master lived her comfort was assured. She turned on me.

"Do you think I would let him keep me in idleness while he was married
to another woman? But no. It would be _malhonnête_. I would never do
such a thing."

She looked at me almost fiercely. There was something noble in her
pride. It would be dishonourable to accept without giving. She would
never do that, never.

"But what will become of you, my dear Blanquette?" I asked.

"Look, Asticot. I would give him all that he would ask. I am his, all,
all, to do what he likes with. I have told you. I would sleep on the
ground outside his door every night, if that were his good pleasure. It
is not much that I demand. But he must be alone in the room,
_entends-tu_? Another woman comes to cherish him, and I no longer have
any place near him. I must be far away. And what would be the good of
being far away from him? What shall I do? _Tiens_, as soon as he
marries, _je vais me fich' à l'eau_."

"You are going to do _what_?" I cried incredulously.

She repeated that she would "chuck" herself into the river--"_Se fich à
l'eau_" is not the French of Racine. I remonstrated. She retorted that
if she could not keep the master's house in order there was nothing left
to live for. Much better be dead than eat your heart out in misery.

"You are talking like a wicked girl," said I severely, "and it will be
my duty to tell the master."

She gave her eyes a final dab with my handkerchief which she restored to
me with an air of scornful resentment.

"If you do, you will be infamous, and I will never speak to you again as
long as I live."

I descended from my Rhadamanthine seat and reflected that the betrayal
of Blanquette's confidence would not be a gallant action. I maintained
my dignity, however.

"Then I must hear nothing more about you drowning yourself."

"We will not talk of it any longer," said Blanquette, frigidly. "I am
going to cook the dinner."

As the prim salon provided little interest for an idle youth, I followed
her into the slip of a kitchen, where I lounged in great contentment and
discomfort. Blanquette relapsed into her fatalistic attitude towards
life and seemed to dismiss the disastrous subject from her mind. While
she prepared the simple meal she entertained me with an account of the
farm near Chartres. There were so many cows, so many ducks and hens and
so many pigs. She rose at five every morning and milked the cows. Oh,
she had milked cows as a child and had not forgotten the art. It was
difficult for those who did not know. _Tiens!_ She demonstrated with
finger and thumb and a lettuce how it was done.

"I shall not forget it," said I.

"It is good to know things," she remarked seriously.

"One never can tell," said I, "when a cow will come to you weeping to be
milked: especially in the Rue des Saladiers."

"That is true," replied Blanquette. "The oddest things happen
sometimes."

Light satire was lost on Blanquette.

After dinner she continued the recital of her adventures for the
Master's delectation. The old couple no longer able to look after the
farm were desirous of selling it, so that they could retire to Evreux
where their only son who had married a rich wife kept a prosperous
hotel.

"Do you know what they said, Master. 'Why does not Monsieur Paragot, who
must be very rich, buy it from us and come to live in the country
instead of that dirty Paris?' _C'est drôle, hein?_"

"Why do they think I am very rich?"

"That is what I asked them. They said if a man did not work he must be
either rich or a rogue; and they know you are not a rogue, _mon
Maître_."

"They flatter me," said Paragot. "Would you like to live in the country,
Blanquette?"

"Oh yes!" she cried with conviction. "_Il y a des bêtes. J'adore ça._
And then it smells so good."

"It does," he sighed. "I haven't smelt it for over three years. Ah! to
have the scent of the good wet earth in one's nostrils and the sound of
bees in one's ears. For two pins I would go gipsying again. If I were a
rich man, my little Blanquette, I would buy the farm, and give it you as
your dowry, and sometimes you would let me come and stay with you."

"But as I shall never marry, _mon Maître_, there will be no need of a
dowry."

She said it smilingly, as if she welcomed her lot as a predestined old
maid. There was not a sign on her plain pleasant face of the torment
raging in her bosom. In my youthful ignorance I did not know whether to
deplore woman's deceit or to admire her stout-heartedness.

"My child," said Paragot, "no human being can, without arrogance, say
what he will or what he will not do. Least of all a woman."

Having uttered this profound piece of wisdom my master went to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the next few weeks Paragot suffered the boredom of a provisional
condition of existence. He went to bed early, for lack of evening
entertainment, and rose late in the morning for lack of daily
occupation. With what he termed "the crapulous years," he had divested
himself of his former associates and habits. Friends that would
harmonise with his gloves and umbrella he had none as yet. If he ordered
an _apéritif_ before the midday meal, it was on the terrace of a café on
the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where he sat devouring newspapers in awful
solitude. Sometimes he took Blanquette for a sedate walk; but no longer
Blanquette _en cheveux_. He bought her a mystical headgear composed as
far as I could see of three plums and a couple of feathers, which the
girl wore with an air of happy martyrdom. He discoursed to her on the
weather and the political situation. At this period he began to develop
republican sympathies. Formerly he had swung, according to the caprice
of the moment, from an irreconcilable nationalism to a fantastic
anarchism. Now he was proud to identify himself with the once despised
_bourgeoisie_. He would have taken to his bosom the draper papa of
Hedwige of Cassel.

Most of his time he spent in the studio at Menilmontant; there at any
rate he was at ease. We were not too disreputable for the umbrella, and
though he deprecated the loose speech of Bringard and Bonnet who had
returned to Paris, and the queer personal habits of Cazalet, he appeared
to find solace in our society. At any rate the visits gave him
occupation. He also posed for the body of M. Thiers in an historical
picture which Bringard proposed to exhibit at the Salon the following
spring.

"_L'homme propose et Dieu expose_," said Paragot.

"If he is anything of a judge this ought to be hung on the line," said
Bonnet.

I regret to say the picture was rejected.

At last the time came for the Melford visit. Paragot consulted Ewing and
myself earnestly as to his outfit, and though he clung to his frock-coat
suit as a garb of ceremony, we succeeded in sending him away with a
semblance of English country-house attire. He took with him my portrait
of Joanna, packed in a wooden case and bearing, to my great pride, the
legend, "Precious. Work of Art. With great care," in French and English.

When he had gone I moved my belongings from my attic to the Rue des
Saladiers, and gave myself up to the ministrations of Blanquette.

A little while later I received from my dear lady an invitation to visit
Melford and paint the portrait of her mother, who regarded my portrait
of Joanna as a work of genius. If you are a young artist it makes your
head spin very pleasantly to hear yourself alluded to as a genius. Later
in life you do not quite like it, for you have bitter knowledge of your
limitations and are mortally afraid your kind flatterers will find you
out. But at twenty you really do not know whether you are a genius or
not. Mrs. Rushworth, however, backed her opinion with a hundred guineas.
A hundred guineas! When I read the words I uttered a wild shriek which
brought Blanquette in a fright from the bedroom. It was a commission,
Joanna explained, and I was to accept it just like any other artist,
and I was to stay with them, again like any other artist, during the
sittings.

"I am to go to England to paint another portrait, Blanquette. How much
do you think I shall be paid for it?"

"Much?" queried Blanquette, in her deliberate way.

I indicated with swinging arms a balloon of gold. Blanquette reflected.

"Fifty francs?"

"Two thousand six hundred and twenty five francs," I cried.

Blanquette sat down in order to realise the sum. It was difficult for
her to conceive thousands of francs.

"That will make you rich for the rest of your life."

"It is only the beginning," I exclaimed hopefully.

Blanquette shook a reproachful head.

"There are some folks who are never satisfied," she said.



CHAPTER XIX


WHEN I arrived at Melford my head was full of painting and
self-importance; and for the first week or so, Mrs. Rushworth, my
subject, occupied the centre of my stage. She was a placid lady of
sixty, whose hair, once golden, had turned a flossy white, and whose
apple cheeks, though still retaining their plumpness, had grown waxen
and were criss-crossed by innumerable tiny lines. The light blue of her
eyes had faded, and the rich redness of her lips had turned to faint
coral. One could trace how Time had day by day touched her with light
but unfaltering fingers, now abstracting a fleck of brightness, now
lowering by an imperceptible shade a tone of colour, until she had
become what I saw her, still the pink and white beauty, but with rose
all deadened into white, like a sick pink pearl. Her pink and white
character had also suffered the effacement of the years. She was as
dainty and as negative as a piece of Dresden China. She loved to dress
in lilac and old lace: and that is how I painted her, regarding her as a
bit of exquisite decoration to be treated flat like a panel of Puvis de
Chavannes.

My young head, I say, was full of the masterpiece I was about to
execute, and though I found much joy in renewed intercourse with my
beloved lady and my master, I took no particular note of their
relations. We met at meals, sometimes in the afternoons, and always of
evenings, when I played dutiful piquet with Mrs. Rushworth, while Joanna
made music on the piano, and Paragot read Jane Austen in an arm-chair by
the fire. To me the quietude of the secluded English home had an
undefinable charm like the smell of lavender, for which I have always
had a cat-like affection. Not having the Bohemian temperament--I am now
the most smugly comfortable painter in Europe--I was perfectly happy. I
took no thought of Paragot, whose temperament was essentially Bohemian;
and how he enjoyed the gentle monotony of the days it did not occur to
me to consider. Outwardly he shewed no sign of impatience. A dean might
have taken him as a model of decorum, and when he drove of afternoons
with Joanna in the dog-cart, no dyspeptic bishop could have assumed his
air of grim urbanity. But after a while I realised that the old Paragot
still smouldered within him; and now and then it burst into unregenerate
flame.

Mrs. Rushworth had inherited from her father an old Georgian Bath-stone
house at the end of the High Street of Melford. He had been the Duke of
Wiltshire's agent and a person of note in the town. Mrs. Rushworth also
was a person of note, and her beautiful daughter, the Countess, a lady
of fortune, became a person of greater note still. Now on Tuesday
afternoons Mrs. Rushworth was "at home." We saw a vast deal of Society,
ladies of county families, parsons' wives, doctors' wives and the female
belongings of the gentlemen farmers round about. There were also a stray
hunting man, a curate or two and Major Walters. The callers sat about
the drawing room in little groups drinking tea and discoursing on
unimportant and unintelligible matters, and seemed oddly shy of Paragot
and myself, whom Joanna always introduced most graciously. They
preferred to talk among themselves. I considered them impolite, which no
doubt they were; but I have since reflected that Paragot was an unusual
guest at an English country tea-party, and if there is one thing more
than another that an English country tea-party resents, it is the
unusual. I am sure that a square muffin would be considered an
indelicacy. On the second of these Tuesday gatherings which I was
privileged to attend, Joanna presented me to two well-favoured young
women, the daughters, I gathered, of people who had country places near
by.

"Mr. Pradel is the artist from Paris who is painting mamma's portrait,"
she explained.

I bowed and remarked that I was enchanted to make their acquaintance.
They stared. I know now that this Gallic mode of address is not usual in
Melford. One young woman, recovering from the shock, said she would like
to be an artist. The other asked me whether I had been to the Academy. I
said, no. I lived in Paris. Then had I been to the Salon?

"At Janot's," said I, with the idiot egregiousness of youth, "we don't
go to the Salon."

"Why?" asked the first, looking across the room, apparently at a curate.

"On principle," I answered. "In the first place it costs a franc which
might be spent in food and raiment, and in the second we desire to
preserve our ideals from the contaminating spectacle of commercial art."

"Do you play much tennis?" asked Number Two, with no desire to snub me
(as I deserved) for fatuity, but through sheer lack of interest in my
observation.

"No," said I.

"Shoot?"

"No; there is not much shooting to be got in the Boulevard
Saint-Michel."

"Oh," she remarked. "Where's that?"

"Paris," said I.

"Oh yes. You live in Paris." And she regarded me with the expression of
bored curiosity exhibited by a superior child before the Yak's enclosure
at the Zoological Gardens. An English country-bred maiden's cosmic
horizon was sadly limited in those days. Now I believe she has extended
it to include the more depressing forms of drama when she pays her
annual visit to London. There was a silence after which she enquired
whether I fished. As my ideas of fishing were restricted to the patient
hosts--pale shades of Acheron--who have angled off the quays of the
Seine for centuries and have till now caught nothing, I smiled and shook
my head.

"The Browns have taken a fishing in Scotland," observed Number One
taking her eyes from the curate, "and I'm to join them next month."

"Myra Brown is going to be married, I hear."

"At Christmas."

"What is he like?"

The hitherto unspeculative eyes of the young woman lit up; an answering
gleam awoke in the other's. Myra Brown and her engagement absorbed their
attention, and I slunk back in my chair, forgotten. I suffered agonies
of shyness. I disliked these foolish virgins and longed to flee from
them; but how to rise and make my escape, without rudeness, passed my
powers of invention. I looked around me. At the tea-table on the farther
side of the room stood Joanna and Major Walters. He was a tall soldierly
man with a blond moustache and fair hair thinning on the crown. There
are about two thousand like him at the present moment on the active and
retired list of the British Army. He seemed to be talking earnestly to
her, for her eyes were fixed on the point of her shoe, which she moved
slightly, from side to side. Presently she flashed a glance at him
somewhat angrily and her lips moved as though she said:--

"What right have you to speak like that?"

He made the Englishman's awkward paraphrase of the shrug, looked swiftly
over at Paragot, and turned to her with a remark. Then for the first
time since the Comte de Verneuil's death, the glacier blue came into her
eyes. She said something. He executed a little stiff bow and walked
away. Joanna, bearing herself very haughtily, crossed the room with a
cup of tea for a new arrival.

Paragot, gaunt and tight-buttoned in his famous frock coat--he had
donned it for the ceremonious afternoon, but Joanna (I think) had
suppressed the purple cravat with the yellow spots--was talking to an
elderly and bony female owning a great beak of a nose. I wondered how so
unprepossessing a person could be admitted into a refined assembly, but
I learned later that she was Lady Molyneux, one of the Great Personages
of the county. The lady seemed to be emphatic; so did Paragot. She
regarded him stonily out of flint-blue eyes. He waved his hands; she
raised her eyebrows. She was one of those women whose eyebrows in the
normal state are about three inches from the eyelids. I understood then
what superciliousness meant. Paragot raised his voice. At that moment
one of those strange coincidences occurred in which the ends of all
casual conversations fell together, and a shaft of silence sped through
the room, killing all sound save that of Paragot's utterance.

"But Great Heavens, Madam, babies don't grow in the cabbage patch, and
you are all well aware they don't, and it's criminal of your English
writers to mislead the young as to the facts of existence. Charlotte
Yonge is infinitely more immoral than Guy de Maupassant."

Then Paragot realized the dead stillness. He rose from his chair, looked
around at the shocked faces of the women and curates, and laughing
turned to Mrs. Rushworth.

"I was stating Zola to be a great ethical teacher, and Lady Molyneux
seemed disinclined to believe me."

"He is an author very little read in Melford," said the placid lady from
her sofa cushions, while the two or three women with whom she was in
converse gazed disapprovingly at my master.

"It would do the town good if it were steeped in his writings," said he.

As this was at a period when like hell you could not mention the name of
Zola to ears polite, no one ventured to argue the matter. Mrs.
Rushworth's plump faded lips quivered helplessly, and it was with a gush
of gratitude that she seized the hand of one of the ladies who rose to
take her leave, and save the situation. The little spell of shock was
broken. Groups resumed their mysterious conversations, and Paragot swung
to the hearth-rug and stood there in solitary defiance. I seized the
opportunity to escape from my two damsels. As I passed Lady Molyneux,
she turned to her neighbour.

"What a dreadful man!" she said. "I entirely disapprove of Mrs.
Rushworth having such persons in her house."

I could have wept with rage. Here was this turtle-brained, ugly woman
(so, in my presumption, I called her) daring to speak slightingly of my
beloved master who had condescended to speak out of his Olympian wisdom,
and no fire from Zeus shrivelled her up! She signified her disapproval
with the air of a law-giver, and the other woman acquiesced. I longed to
flame into defence of Paragot; but remembering how ill I fared on a
similar occasion when a member of the Lotus Club accused him of having
led a bear in Warsaw, I wisely held my peace. But I was very angry.

I joined Paragot on the hearth-rug. Presently Joanna came with her
silvery laugh.

"You mustn't be so dreadfully emphatic, Gaston," she said.

"Unintelligent women must not lay down the law on matters they don't
understand," said Paragot.

"But it was Lady Molyneux."

"Which signifies?"

"The sovereign lady of Melford."

"God help Melford!" ejaculated my master.

When the ladies had left us that evening after dinner, Paragot poured
out a glass of port and pushed the decanter across to me.

"My son," said he, "as a philosopher and a citizen of the world you will
find Melford repay patient study as much as Chambéry or Buda-Pesth or
the Latin Quarter. It is a garden of Lilliput. Here you will see Life in
its most cultivated littleness. A great passion bursting out across the
way would convulse the town like an earthquake. Observe at the same time
how constant a factor is human nature. However variable the
manifestation may be, the degree is invariable. In spacious conditions
it manifests itself in passions, in narrow ones in prejudices. The
females in and out of petticoats who were here this afternoon experience
the same thrill in expressing their dislike of me as a person foreign to
their convention, as the Sicilian who plunges his dagger into a rival's
bosom. When I am married, my son, I shall not live at Melford."

"Where do you propose to live, Master?" I enquired.

He made a great gesture and drew a deep breath.

"On the Continent of Europe," said he, as if even a particular country
were too cabined to satisfy his nostalgia for wide spaces. "I must have
room, my son, for the development of my genius. I must dream great
things, and immortal visions are blasted under the basilisk eye of Lady
Molyneux."

"She is a _vieille pimbêche_!" I cried.

"She is the curse of England," said Paragot.

       *       *       *       *       *

After this it occurred to me that I might take more note of Melford and
its ways than I had done hitherto, and the more I observed it the less
did it appear to resemble either Eden or the Boulevard Saint-Michel. At
times I felt dull. I would lean over the parapet of the bridge at the
other end of the High Street, and watch the tower and decorated spire of
the old parish church rise from the gold and russet bosom of the
church-yard elms, and wish I were back on the Pont Neuf with the
tumultuous life of Paris around me. There was a lack of breeziness in
the social air of Melford.

Meanwhile Paragot and Joanna continued the romance of long ago. They
walked together in the garden like lovers, his arm around her waist, her
delicate head lightly leaning on his shoulder. Once when I made my
presence known, he withdrew his arm, but Joanna laughingly replaced it.

"What does it matter? Asticot is in our confidence," she remarked.
"Isn't he going to be your best man? You will bring him over for the
wedding, Gaston."

"You cling to the idea of being married in Melford?" he asked.

"Of course."

"By that dry, grey-whiskered gentleman who treats me as if I were a
youth he would like to prepare for confirmation? And all these dreadful
people to look on? My dear, doesn't the thought of it chill you into the
corpse of a Melfordian?"

"I should have imagined that so long as we were married the 'how' would
not matter to you."

"Quite so," said he. "Why does the 'how' matter so much to you?"

"It is different," said Joanna. "It is right for me to be married here."

"We must do what is right at all costs," assented my master in an
ironical note, which she was quick to detect. She swerved from his
encircling arm.

"You would not be married under a bush like a beggar?" she quoted.

"I wish to heaven I could!" he exclaimed with sudden spirit. "It is the
only way of mating. I would take you to a little village I know of in
the Vosges, overhanging a precipice, with God's mountains and sky above
us, and not a schedule of regulations for human conduct within thirty
miles, and Monsieur le Maire would tie his tricolor scarf around him and
marry us, and we would go away arm in arm and the cow-bells overhead
would ring the wedding peal, and there would be just you and I and the
universe."

"We'll compromise," said Joanna, smiling. "We'll spend our honeymoon in
your village in the Vosges after we are well and duly and respectably
married in Melford. Don't you think I am reasonable, Asticot?"

"My dear Joanna," said Paragot, "you have infatuated this boy to such an
extent that he would agree with you in anything. Of course he will say
that the Reverend and respectable Mr. Hawkfield is better than the
picturesque Monsieur le Maire, and that a wedding cake from Gunter's is
preferable to the curdled cheese of Valdeauvau. He would perjure his
little soul to atoms for your sake."

"I thought somebody else would too," whispered Joanna softly.

Paragot yielded as he looked down at her sea-shell face.

"So he would. For your sake he would go through Hell and the Church of
England service for the Solemnization of Matrimony."

We were walking round and round the broad gravel path that enclosed the
tennis lawn. Land was cheap in the days when the Georgian houses of the
High Street were built, and people took as much for garden purposes as
they desired. The gardens were the only truly spacious things in
Melford. There was a long silence. The lovers seemed to have forgotten
my existence. Presently Joanna spoke.

"You must remember that I am still a member of the Church of England,
and look at the religious side of marriage. It would be very pretty to
be married by Monsieur le Maire, but I could not reconcile it to my
conscience. So when you speak scoffingly of a marriage in church you
rather hurt me, Gaston."

"You must forgive me, _ma chérie_," said he, humbly. "I am a happy
Pagan and it is so long since I have met anyone who belonged to the
Church of England that I thought the institution had perished of
inanition."

"Why, you went with me to church last Sunday."

"So I did," said he, "but I thought it was only to worship the Great
British God Respectability."

Joanna sighed and turned the conversation to the autumn tints and other
impersonal things, and I noticed that she drew Paragot's arm again
around her waist, as if to reassure herself of something. As we passed
by the porch, I entered the house; but loving to look on my dear lady, I
lingered, and saw her hold up her lips. He bent down and kissed them.

"Don't think me foolish, Gaston," she said, "but I have starved for love
for thirteen years."

By the gesture of his arm and the working of his features, I saw that he
rhapsodised in reply.

To the sentimental youngster who looked on, this love-making seemed an
idyll without a disturbing breath. Joanna, though she had lost the gay
spontaneity of her Paris holiday, smiled none the less adorably on
Paragot and myself. She wore a little air of defiant pride when she
introduced him to her acquaintance as "my cousin, Monsieur de Nérac,"
which was very pretty to behold. Convention forbade the announcement of
their engagement at so early a stage of her widowhood, but anyone of
rudimentary intelligence could see that she was presenting her future
husband. Few women can hide that triumphant sense of proprietorship in a
man, especially if they have at the same time to hold themselves on the
defensive against the possible fulminations of Lady Molyneux. Joanna
proclaimed herself a champion. Even when Paragot forgot his social
reformation and banged his fist down on the dinner table till the
glasses rang again, with a great _nom de Dieu!_ her glance swept the
company as if to defy them to find anything uncommon in the demeanour of
her guest. It was only towards the end of my stay that she began to
wince. And Paragot, save on occasion of outburst, went through the
love-making and the social routine with the grave but contented face of
a man who had found his real avocation.

Looking back on these idyllic days I realise the greatness of Paragot's
self-control. In his domestic habits he was less a human being than a
mechanical toy. At half past eight every morning he entered the
breakfast-room. At half past nine he went into the town to get shaved.
Had he an appointment with Joanna, he was there to the minute. He
clothed himself in what he considered were orthodox garments. He even
folded up his trousers of nights. He limited his smoking to a definite
number of cigarettes consumed at fixed hours. Apparently he had never
heard of the reprehensible habit of drinking between meals. If he only
went to church to worship the British God Respectability, he did so with
impeccable unction. No undertaker listened to the funeral service with
more portentous solemnity than Paragot exhibited during the Vicar's
sermon. Indeed, sitting bolt upright in the pew, his lined, brown face
set in a blank expression, his ill-fitting frock coat buttoned tight
across his chest, his hair--despite the barber's pains--struggling in
vain to obey the rules of the unaccustomed parting, he bore considerable
resemblance to an undertaker in moderate circumstances. Of the
delectable vagabond in pearl-buttoned velveteens fiddling wildly to
capering peasants; of the long-haired, unkempt Dictator of the Café
Delphine roaring his absinthe-inspired judgments on art and philosophy
for the delectation of his disciples, not a trace remained. He sang the
hymns. It was a pity they did not invite him to go round with the plate.
Yet the signs of a rebellious spirit continued now and then to manifest
themselves. He asked me, one day, with a groan whether he was condemned
to a daily clean collar for the rest of his life. Another day he seized
me by the arm, as we were lounging on the porch, and dragged me out of
earshot of the house.

"My good Asticot," said he in a dramatic whisper, "if I don't talk to a
man, I shall go mad. I shall dance around the flower beds and scream. I
have a yearning to converse with the host of the Black Boar, a fat
Rabelaisian scoundrel who has piqued my imagination. And besides, if
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into my throat this minute they
would find it quite a different thing from Nebuchadnezzar's ineffectual
bonfire."

"There is no reason why we should not go to the Black Boar," said I.

He clapped me on the shoulder, calling me a Delphic oracle, and haled me
from the premises through the garden gate, with the lightning rapidity
of the familiar Paragot.

"Master," said I, as we hastened down the High Street--the Black Boar
stood at the other end, by the bridge--"if you want a man to talk to,
there is always Major Walters."

Paragot threw out his hand.

"He is a man, in that he is brave and masculine; in that he is
intelligent, he is naught. He is a machine-gun. He fires off rounds of
stereotyped conversation at the rate of one a minute, which is funereal.
I also have the misfortune, my little Asticot, to be under the ban of
Major Walters' displeasure. Your British military man is prejudiced
against anyone who is not cut out according to pattern."

"Madame de Verneuil is not cut out according to pattern," said I
maliciously.

"Your infant eyes have noticed it too? But I, my son, am Gaston de
Nérac, a vidame of Gascony, _nom de Dieu! et il aura affaire à moi, ce
pantin-là! Sacredieu_! Do you know what he had the impertinence to ask
me yesterday? What settlements I proposed to make on Madame de Verneuil.
Settlements, _mon petit_ Asticot! He spoke as trustee, whatever that may
be, under her husband's will. 'Sir,' said I, 'I will settle my love and
my genius upon her, and thereby insure her happiness and her prosperity.
Besides, Madame de Verneuil has a fortune which will suffice her needs
and of which I will not touch a penny.'"

I smiled, for I could see Paragot in his grand French manner, one hand
thrust between the buttons of his coat and the other waving
magnificently, as he proclaimed himself to Major Walters.

"I explained," he continued, "in terms which I thought might reach his
intelligence, that I only had to resume my profession and my financial
position would equal that of Madame de Verneuil. 'And, Sir,' said I, 'I
will not suffer you to say another word.' We bowed, and parted enemies.
Wherefore the conversation of the excellent Major Walters does not
appeal to me as attractive."

At the time I thought this very noble of Paragot. In a way it was so,
for my master, who had never committed a dishonourable action in his
life, was genuine in his scorn of the insinuation that he proposed to
live on Joanna's money. He verily believed himself capable of
reattaining fame and fortune. It was only the nuisance of having to do
so that, at introspective times, disconcerted him. He knew that to break
away from a thirteen-year-old habit of idleness would need considerable
effort. But he was a man, _nom d'un chien_!

To prove it he called for a quart of ale in the bar-parlour of the Black
Boar, an old coaching inn, set back from the road. The little eyes of
the fleshy rubicond host, loafing comfortably in shirt-sleeves,
glistened as he received the Pantagruelian order and brought the great
tankard with a modest half pint for me, and a jorum of rum for himself.
Paragot was worthy of a host's attention.

Paragot pledged him and literally poured the contents of the tankard
down his throat.

The landlord stared in an ecstasy of admiration.

"Well, I'm damned," said he.

"I'll take another," said Paragot.

The landlord brought another tankard.

"How do you manage it?" he asked.

Paragot explained that he had learned the art in Germany. You open your
throat to the good beer without moving the muscles whereby you swallow,
and down it goes.

"Well, I'm jiggered," said mine host.

"Have you no pretty drinkers hereabouts?" asked my master, sipping the
second quart.

"They lots of 'em comes here and gets fuddled, if that's what you mean."

Paragot waved an impatient hand. "To get fuddled on beer is not pretty
drinking. Haven't you any hard-headed topers who are famous in the
neighborhood? Men who can carry their liquor like gentlemen and whose
souls expand as they get more and more filled with the alcohol of human
kindness? If so, I should like to meet them."

"There isn't any as could toss off a quart like that."

"Have you always lived in Melford?"

"Oh no," replied the landlord, as if resenting the suggestion, "I was
born and bred in Devizes."

"It must be a devil of a place, Devizes," said Paragot.

"It be none so bad," assented the landlord. A woman's voice from the bar
summoned him away. Paragot pushed his unfinished quart from him and
rose. He shook his head sadly.

"I am disappointed in that man. He is a mere bucolic idiot. I shall
waste my talents intellectual and bibulous on him no longer. Our
excursion into the Bohemia of Melford is a failure, my little Asticot,
and the beer is confoundedly sour. I am glad I did not vagabondise in
rural England."

"Why?" I asked.

"To avoid an asylum for idiots I should have rushed into the dissenting
ministry. I might have expected mine host to be a dullard. In this
country the expected always happens, which paralyses the brain. Now let
us go home to lunch."

He paid the bill, and as we issued from the door of the inn we fell into
the arms of Joanna and Major Walters.

The latter regarded us superciliously, and Joanna catching his glance
flushed to the wavy hair over her forehead. The ordinary greetings
having been exchanged, she proudly and markedly drew Paragot ahead,
leaving me to follow with Major Walters. As he made no remark of any
kind during our little walk, I did not find him an exhilarating
companion.



CHAPTER XX


I HAD worked till the last glimmer of daylight at the portrait, which
was now approaching completion.

"That's the end of it for to-day," said I, laying my palette and brushes
aside, and regarding the picture.

Joanna rose from her chair by the fire where she had been sewing for the
last hour and stood by my side. The morning-room, which had a clear
north-east light through the French window leading into the garden, had
been assigned to me as a studio, and here, sometimes on a murky
afternoon, Joanna, who preferred the bright, chintz-covered place to the
gloomy drawing-room, honoured me with her company. Mrs. Rushworth was
asleep upstairs, and Paragot had gone for a solitary walk. We were
cosily alone.

It pleased my lady to be flattering.

"It is wonderful how a boy like you can do such work--for you _are_ a
boy, Asticot," she said with one of her bright comrade-like smiles. "In
a few years you will have the world at your feet imploring you to paint
its portrait. You will fulfil the promise, won't you?"

"What promise, Madame?" I asked.

"The promise of your life now. It is not everyone who does. You won't
allow outside things to send you away from it all."

She had slung the stole which she was embroidering for the vicar across
her shoulders, and holding the two ends looked at me wistfully.

"I owe it to my master, Madame," said I, "to work with all my might."

"If only he had had a master in the old days!" she sighed, "He would
have been by now a famous man full of honours, with all the world can
give in his possession."

"Hasn't he the best the world can give now that he has found you again?"
said I, somewhat shyly.

Joanna gave a short laugh. "You talk sometimes like one's grandfather. I
suppose that is because you became a student of philosophy at a tender
age. Yes, your master has found me again; but after all, what is a
woman? Just a speck of dust on top of the world."

She half seated herself on my painting stool, her back to the picture.

"Tell me, Asticot, is he at least happy?"

"Can you doubt it, Madame?" I cried warmly.

"I do so want him to be happy, Asticot. You see it was all through me
that he gave up his career and took to the strange life he has been
leading, and I feel doubly responsible for his future. Can you
understand that?"

Her blue eyes were very childish and earnest. For all my love of
Paragot, I suddenly felt something like pity for her, as for one who had
undertaken a responsibility that weighed too heavily on slender
shoulders. For the first time it struck me that Paragot and Joanna might
not be a perfectly matched couple. Intuition prompted me to say:--

"My master is utterly happy, but you must give him a little time to
accustom himself to the new order of things."

"That's it," she said. Then there was a pause. "You are such a wise
boy," she continued, "that perhaps you may be able to do something for
me. I can't do it myself--and it's horrid of me to talk about it--but do
you think you might suggest to him that people of our class don't visit
the Black Boar? I don't mind it a bit; but other people--my cousin Major
Walters said something a day or two ago--and it hurt. They don't
understand Gaston's Continental ways. It is natural for a man to go to a
café in France; but in England, things are so different."

I promised to convey to Paragot the tabu of the Black Boar, and then I
asked her which she preferred, England or France. She shivered, and a
gleam of frost returned to her eyes.

"I never want to see France again. I was so unhappy there. I am trying
to persuade Mr. de Nérac to live in London. He can find as much scope
for his art there as in Paris, can't he?"

"Surely," said I.

"And you'll come too," she said with the flash of gaiety that was one of
her charms. "You'll have a beautiful studio near by and we'll all be
happy together."

She jumped off the painting stool and having bidden me light the gas,
resumed her task of embroidering the stole, by the fireside.

"It's pretty, isn't it?" she asked, holding it up for my inspection.

I agreed. She had considerable talent for art needlework.

"Gaston doesn't appreciate it," she remarked, laughing. "He disapproves
of clergymen."

"They have scarcely been in his line," I answered apologetically.

"They will have to be. Oh, you'll see. I'll make him a model Englishman
before very long."

"I'm afraid you will find it rather difficult, Madame," said I.

"Do you think I'm afraid of difficulties? Isn't everything difficult? Is
it easy for you to get everything to come out on that canvas just as you
want it? If you could dash it off in a minute it wouldn't be worth
doing. As you yourself said, I'll have to give Gaston time."

I seated myself on the fender-seat close by her chair, and for some
minutes watched the clever needle work its golden way through the white
silk. No one has ever had such dainty fingers and delicate wrists.

"You mustn't think, because I have spoken about Mr. de Nérac, that I am
discontented. I wouldn't have him a bit altered integrally, for there is
no one like him living. And I'm utterly happy in the fulfilment of the
great romance of my life. Isn't it wonderful, Asticot? Have you ever
heard the like outside a story book? To meet again after thirteen years
and to find the old--the old----"

"Love," I whispered, as I saw that she suddenly blushed at the word.

"As strong and true as ever. It is the inner things that matter,
Asticot. The outside ones are nothing. Dreadful things have happened to
each of us during those years, but they haven't clouded the serenity of
our souls."

"Ah, Madame," said I, with a smile--it strikes me now that I was
slightly impertinent--"I am sure my master said that."

"Yes," she admitted, raising wide innocent eyes. "How did you guess?"

"You yourself once detected echoes in me!"

We both laughed.

"That is what brought us together, Asticot. You seemed to regard him as
a god rather than as a man--and I loved you for it."

She put out her left hand. I touched it with my lips.

"That's a charming French way we haven't got in England. And--you did it
very nicely, Asticot."

I almost scowled at the servant who entered with the announcement that
tea was waiting in the drawing-room.

       *       *       *       *       *

I think of all human utterances I have heard fall from the lips of those
I love and honour, that formula of Paragot's echoed by Joanna was the
most pathetically vain. And they believed it. Indeed it was the vital
article of their faith. On its truth the whole fabric of their love
depended.

It counted for nothing in Joanna's romantic eyes that the brilliant
eager youth, "rich in the glory of his rising-sun," who had won her
heart long ago--(she shewed me his photograph: alas poor Paragot!)--was
now the tongue-tied spectre, the tale of whose ungentle past was scarred
upon his face: who stalked grotesquely comfortless in his ill-fitting
clothes: who with the art of dress had lost in the boozing-kens of
Europe the graces of social intercourse. It counted for nothing that he
was middle-aged, deserted forever by the elusive wanton, inspiration,
condemned (she knew it in her heart) to artistic barrenness in
perpetuity. It counted for nothing that her gods awakened his contempt,
and his gods her fear. It counted for nothing that they had scarcely a
single taste or thought in common--half-educated, half-bred boy that I
was, I vow I entered a sweeter chamber of intimacy in my dear lady's
heart than was open to Paragot.

You see, in spite of all the deadening influences, all the horror of her
married life, she had remained a child. When the Comte de Verneuil had
found her unforgiving in the matter of the false announcement of
Paragot's death, he had left her pretty much to herself, and had gone
after the strange goddesses, the ignoble Astaroths, beloved by a man of
his type. Month had followed month and year had followed year, and she
had not developed. His family, nationalist and devout, of the old
school, regarded him, rightly, as a renegade from their traditions, and
regarded Joanna, wrongly, as the English heretic who had seduced him
from the paths of orthodoxy. Their relations with Joanna were of the
most frigid. On the other hand, the society of Hebraic finance in which
the Comte de Verneuil found profit and entertainment was repugnant to
the delicately nurtured Englishwoman. She led a lonely existence. "I
have so few friends in Paris," were almost her first words to me on the
day of our meeting outside the Hôtel Bristol. She went through the
world, her lips set in a smile, and her dear eyes frozen, and her heart
yearning for the sheltered English life with its rules for guidance and
its barriers of convention, its pleasant little routine of duties, and
its gentle communion of unemotional temperaments. Her eleven years
married life had been merely a suspension of existence. Her few
excursions into the unusual had been the scared adventures of a child.
Her romance was the romance of a child. Her gracious simplicity, and her
caressing adorableness which made my boy's love for her a passionate
worship which has lasted to this day, when we both are old and only meet
to shake heads together in palsied sympathy, were the essential charms
of a child. How should she understand the Paragot that I knew? His soul
still shone the stainless radiance that had dazzled her young eyes. That
was all that mattered. It was easy to convert the outer man to
convention. It was the simplest thing in the world to make the chartered
libertine of talk accept the Index Expurgatorius of subjects mete for
discussion: to regulate the innate vagabond by the clock: to bring the
pantheistic pagan of wide spiritual sympathies (for Paragot was by no
means an irreligious man) into the narrowest sphere of Anglicanism. The
colossal nature of her task did not occur to her; and there again she
exhibited a child's unreasoning confidence. Nor did it occur to her to
bid him throw off his undertaker's garb and gloom and to adopt his free
theories of life and conduct. At her mother's knee she had learned the
First Commandment, "Thou shalt have none other gods but me"; and
Joanna's god, though serving her sweet innocent soul all the reasonable
purposes of a deity, was Matthew Arnold's gigantic clergyman in a white
tie. In obedience to his maxims alone lay salvation: Joanna's conviction
was unshakable. As a matter of course Paragot must walk the same path.
There was not another one to walk.

Paragot accepted meekly my report of Joanna's tabu of the Black Boar.

"Whatever Madame de Verneuil says is right. I was forgetting that the
refrain of the ballade of the immortal Villon '_Tout aux tavernes et aux
filles_' which was that of my life for so many years is so no longer, I
wonder what the devil the refrain is now? Ha!" he exclaimed clapping his
hand on my shoulder in his old violent way, "I have it! also Villon.
Guess. Didn't I teach you all the ballades by rote as we wandered
through Savoy?"

"Yes, Master," said I; but I could only think of the one that came into
my Byronic little head on the occasion of my first meeting with Joanna,
"_Bien heureux qui rien n'y a_," which in the present circumstances was
clearly not applicable. The romantic lover does not base his conduct on
the formula that blessed is he who has nothing to do with women.

"What is it, Master?" I asked.

"'_En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir._'"

I did not understand. "In which faith do you wish to live and die?" I
asked.

He made a gesture of disappointment. He too was a child in many
respects.

"You must go back to Paris to sharpen your wits, my son. I thought I had
trained you to catch allusion, one of the most delicate and satisfying
arts of life. Did I not preface my remarks by saying that Madame de
Verneuil was infallible? By which I mean that she is the mouthpiece of
all the sweeter kinds of angels. That is the faith, my little Asticot,"
and he repeated to himself the rascal poet's refrain to his most perfect
poem: "_En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir._"

"But that," said I, wishing to prove that I had not forgotten my
scholarship, "is a prayer to Our Lady made by Villon at the request of
his mother."

"You are as hopeless as mine host of the Black Boar," said my master,
and being wound up to talk--it was during the after-dinner interval
before joining the ladies--he launched into a half hour's disquisition
on the philosophic value of allusiveness, addressing me as if I had been
his audience at the Lotus Club or a choice band of disciples at the Café
Delphine.

In the drawing-room I played my piquet with Mrs. Rushworth, while
Paragot sat with Joanna in a far corner. I could not help noticing how
little they spoke. Paragot's torrent of words had dried up, and the talk
seemed to flow in unsatisfying driblets. Why did he not entertain her
with his newly adopted romantical motto from Villon? Why did he not
express, in terms of which he was such a master, his fantastic
adoration? Why even did he not continue his disquisition on the
philosophic value of allusiveness? Anything, thought I, as I declared a
_quinzième_ and fourteen kings, rather than this staccato exchange of
commonplaces which I was sure neither Joanna nor himself in the least
enjoyed. In fact, my dear Joanna yawned.

Presently Major Walters was announced. He had come, he explained
apologetically, on trustee business and required Joanna's signature to
an important document. She flew to him with a pretty air of delight,
drew him by the arm to an escritoire in a corner of the room, and
laughed girlishly as she inked her fingers and confessed her
powerlessness to comprehend the deed she was signing. Paragot, after a
very cold exchange of greetings with Major Walters, sat down by our
card-table, and watched the game with the funereal expression he always
wore when he desired to exhibit his entire correctness of demeanour. To
Mrs. Rushworth's placid remarks during the deals he made the politest of
monosyllabic replies. Meanwhile his dingy white tie, which he never
could arrange properly (he dressed for dinner each night without a
murmur) had worked up beyond his collar, and encircling his lean neck
like a pussy-cat's ribbon, gave him a peculiarly unheroic appearance.

The signing over, Joanna kept Major Walters by the escritoire and
chatted in a lively manner. As far as I could hear--and I am afraid my
attention was sadly abstracted from my game--they talked of the same
unintelligible things as the Tuesday afternoon guests, personalities,
local doings and what not. She ran to fetch the stole, over which
Paragot had not glowed with rapturous enthusiasm; apparently Major
Walters said just the thing concerning it her heart craved to hear; her
silvery voice rippled with pleasure. A while later he must have returned
to some business matter which he declared settled, for she put her hand
on his sleeve in her impulsive caressing way and her eyes beamed
gratitude.

"I don't know what I should do without you, Dennis. You bear all my
responsibilities on your strong shoulders. How can I thank you?"

He bent down and said something in a low voice, at which she blushed and
laughed reprovingly. His remark did not offend her in the least. She was
enjoying herself. He drew himself up with a smile. It was then that I
noted particularly how well bred and clean-limbed he was; how easily his
clothes fitted. It seemed as impossible for Major Walters' tie to work
up round his neck as for his toes to protrude through his boots. He gave
one the impression of having followed cleanliness of thought and person
all his life. I began to have a sneaking admiration for the man. I
beheld in its openness that which I had often seen pierce through
Paragot's travesty of mountebankery or rags, but which singularly
enough seemed hidden beneath his conventional garb--the inborn and
incommunicable quality of the high-bred gentleman. I set to dreaming of
it and scheming out a portrait in which that essential quality could be
expressed; whereby I played the fool with my hand and incurred the mild
rebuke of my adversary, as she repiqued and capoted me and triumphantly
declared the game.

There was a short, general conversation. Then Major Walters, declining
the offer of whisky and soda in the dining-room, took his leave. Paragot
accompanied him to the front door. When he returned, Mrs. Rushworth
retired, as she always did after her game, and Joanna instead of
remaining with us for an hour, as usual, pleaded fatigue and went to
bed.

"Master," said I, boyishly full of my new idea, "do you think Major
Walters would sit to me? I don't mean as a commission--of course I
couldn't ask him--but for practice. I should like to paint him as a
knight in armour."

"Why this lunatic notion?" asked my master.

I explained. He looked at me for some time very seriously. There was a
touch of pain in his tired blue eyes.

"You are right, my little Asticot," he said, "and I was wrong. My
perception is growing blunt. I regarded our friend as having fallen out
of the War Office box of tin soldiers. Your vision has been keener.
Breed counts for much; but for it to have full value there must be the
_life_ as well. All the same, the notion of asking Major Walters to pose
to you in a suit of armour is lunatic, and the sooner you finish Mrs.
Rushworth and get back to Janot's the better. There is also Blanquette
who must be bored to death in the Rue des Saladiers, with no one but
Narcisse to bear her company."

He put a cigarette into his mouth, but for some time did not light it
although he held a match ready to strike in his fingers. His thoughts
held him.

"My son," he said at last, "I would give the eyes out of my head to have
my violin."

"Why, Master?" I asked.

"Because," said he, "when one is afflicted with a divine despair, there
is nothing for it like fiddling it out of the system."



CHAPTER XXI


PARIS again; Janot's; the organized confusion of the studio; the
boisterous comradeship of my coevals; the Monday morning throng of
models in all stages of non-attire crowding the staircases; the noisy
café over the way; the Restaurant Didier where those of us, young men
and maidens, who had princely incomes dined marvellously for one franc
fifty, _vin compris_--such wine!--I writhe sympathetically at its
memory; the squabbles, the new romances, the new slang on the tip of
everyone's tongue; the studio in Menilmontant where the four of us
slaved at never-to-be-purchased masterpieces; the dear, full-blooded,
inspiring life again. Paris, too, which meant the Rue des Saladiers and
Blanquette and Narcisse, and the grace of dear familiar things.

It must not be counted to me for ingratitude that I was glad to be back.
I was still a boy, under twenty. My pockets bulged with the bank notes
into which I had converted Mrs. Rushworth's cheque, and I found myself
master of infinite delight. I presented Blanquette with a tortoise-shell
comb and Narcisse with a collar, and I electrified my intimate and less
fortunate friends by giving them a dinner in the dismal entresol at
Didier's which was superbly styled the "_Salle des Banquets_." Fanchette
and one or two of her colleagues being of the party, I fear we behaved
in a disreputable manner. If Melford had looked on it would have blushed
to the top of its decorated spire. We put the table aside and danced
eccentric quadrilles. We shouted roystering songs. When Cazalet tried
to sing a solo we held him down and gagged him with his own sandals. We
flirted in corners. A goodly portion of Rosaria, a Spanish model born
and bred in the Quartier Saint-Antoine, we washed in red wine. It was a
memorable evening. The next day Blanquette listened with great interest
to my expurgated account of the proceedings, and in her good unhumorous
way prescribed for my headache. When one is young, such a night is worth
a headache. I am unrepentant, even though I am old and the almond tree
flourishes and the grasshopper is trying to be a nuisance. I don't like
your oldsters who pretend to be ashamed of the follies of their youth.
They are humbugs all. There is no respectable elderly gentleman in the
land who does not inwardly chuckle over the chimes he has heard at
midnight.

Though I always had Joanna's gracious personality at the back of my
mind, and the love of my good master as part of my spiritual equipment,
yet I must confess to concerning my thoughts very little with the
progress of their romance. I took it for granted as I took many things
in those unspeculative days. The actual whirl of Paris caught me and
left me little time for conjecture. I wrote once or twice to Joanna; but
my letters were egotistical outpourings; the mythological picture at
Menilmontant inspired sheets of excited verbiage. She replied in her
pretty sympathetic way, but gave me little news of Paragot. It was
hardly to be expected that she should write romantically, like a young
girl foolishly in love, gushing to a bosom friend. Paragot himself, who
disliked pen, ink, and paper, merely sent me the casual messages of
affection through Joanna. He took the view of the Duenna in "Ruy Blas"
as to the adequacy of the King's epistle to the Queen: "Madame. It is
very windy and I have killed six wolves. Carlos." What more was
necessary? asked the Duenna. So did Paragot.

When I was with Blanquette I avoided the subject of the impending
marriage as much as possible. She looked forward with dull fatalism to
the day when another woman would take the master into her keeping and
her own occupation would be gone.

"But, Blanquette, we shall go on living together just as we are doing
now," I cried in the generosity of youth.

"And when a woman comes and takes you too?"

I swore insane vows of celibacy; but she laughed at me in her
common-sense way, and uttered blunt truths concerning the weaknesses of
my sex.

"Besides, my little Asticot," she added, "I love you very much; you know
that well; but you are not the Master."

Once I suggested the possibility of her marrying some one else. There
was a cheerful _quincaillier_ at the corner of the street who, to my
knowledge, paid her assiduous attentions. He was evidently a man of
substance and refinement, for a zinc bath was prominently displayed
among his hardware. But Blanquette's love laughed at tinsmiths. She who
had lived on equal terms with the Master and myself (I bowed my
acknowledgment of the tribute) to marry a person without education? _Ah!
mais non! Au grand nom! Merci!_ She was as scornful as you please, and
without rhyme or reason plucked a bunch of Christmas roses from a jug on
the table and threw them into the stove. Poor _quincaillier_! There was
nothing for it but to _se fich' à l'eau_--to chuck herself into the
river. That was the end of most of our conversations on the disastrous
subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the end of a talk on one November evening, about three weeks
after I had returned to Paris. I had dined at home with Blanquette, and
was in the midst of a drawing which I blush to say I was doing for _Le
Fou Rire_, an unprincipled comic paper fortunately long since
defunct--(fortunately? Tartuffe that I am. Many a welcome louis did I
get from it in those necessitous days)--when she looked up from her
sewing and asked when the Master was coming back. The question led to an
answer, the answer to an observation, and the observation to the
discussion of the Subject.

"There is no way out of it, _mon pauvre Asticot, je vais me fich' à
l'eau, comme je l'ai dit_."

"In the meanwhile, my dear," said I, throwing down the crow-quill pen
and pushing my drawing away, "if you remain in this pestilential
condition of morbidness, you will die without the necessity of drowning
yourself. Instead of making ourselves miserable, let us go and dance at
the Bal Jasmin. _Veux-tu?_"

"This evening?" she asked, startled. She had never grown accustomed to
the suddenness of the artistic temperament.

"Of course this evening. You don't suppose I would ask you to dance next
month so as to cure you of indigestion to-night."

"But nothing is wrong with my stomach, _mon cher_," said the literal
Blanquette.

"It is indigestion of the heart," said I, after the manner of Paragot,
"and dancing with me at the Bal Jasmin will be the best thing in the
world for you."

"It would give you pleasure?"

This was charmingly said. It implied that she would sacrifice her
feelings for my sake. But her eyes brightened and her cheeks flushed a
little. Women are rank hypocrites on occasion.

Ten minutes later Blanquette, wearing her black Sunday gown set off by a
blue silk scarf embroidered at the edges with a curious kind of pink
forget-me-not, her hair tidily coiled on top and fixed with my
tortoise-shell comb, announced that she was ready. We started. In those
days I did not drive to balls in luxurious hired vehicles. I walked,
pipe in mouth, correctly giving my arm to Blanquette. No doubt everybody
thought us lovers. It is odd how wrong everybody can be sometimes.

The Bal Jasmin was situated in the Rue Mouffetard. It has long since
disappeared with many a haunt of my youth's revelry. The tide of frolic
has set northward, and Montmartre, which to us was but a geographical
term, now dazzles the world with its venal splendour. But the Moulin de
la Galette and the Bal Tabarin of the present day lack the gaiety of the
Bal Jasmin. It was not well frequented; it gathered round its band-stand
people with shocking reputations; the sight of a man in a dress coat
would have transfixed the assembly like some blood-curdling ghost. The
ladies would have huddled together in a circle round the wearer and
gazed at him open-mouthed. He would subsequently have had to pay for the
ball's liquid refreshment. The Bal Jasmin did not employ meretricious
ornament to attract custom. A low gallery containing tables ran around
the bare hall, the balustrade being of convenient elbow height from the
floor, so that the dancers during intervals of rest could lounge and
talk with the drinkers. In the middle was a circular bandstand where
greasy musicians fiddled with perspiring zeal. At the doors a sergent de
ville stood good-humouredly and nodded to the ladies and gentlemen with
whom he had a professional acquaintance.

Everybody came to dance. If good fortune, such as a watch or a freshly
subventioned student, fell into their mouths, they swallowed it like
honest, sensible souls; but they did not make reprehensible adventure
the main object of their evening. They danced the quadrilles, not for
payment and the delectation of foreigners as at the Jardin de Paris, but
for their own pleasure. A girl kicked off your hat out of sheer kindness
of heart and animal spirits; and if you waltzed with her, she danced
with her strange little soul throbbing in her feet. There were, I say,
the most dreadfully shocking people at the Bal Jasmin; but they could
teach the irreproachable a lesson in the art of enjoyment.

As I came with Blanquette, and danced only with Blanquette, and sat with
Blanquette over bock or syrup in the gallery, the unwritten etiquette of
the place caused us to be undisturbed. Like the rest of the assembly we
enjoyed ourselves. Dancing was Blanquette's one supreme accomplishment.
Old Père Paragot had taught her to play the zither indifferently well,
but he had made her dance divinely: and Blanquette, I may here mention
incidentally, had been my instructress in the art. Seeing her thick-set,
coarse figure, and holding your arm around her solid waist as you waited
for the bar, you would not have dreamed of the fairy lightness it
assumed the moment feet moved in time with the music. If life had been a
continuous waltz no partner of hers less awkward than a rhinoceros
could have avoided falling in love with her. But waltzes ended all too
soon and the thistle-down sylph of a woman became my plain homely
Blanquette, uninspiring of romance save in the hardware bosom of the
_quincaillier_ at the corner of the Rue des Saladiers.

The _bal_ was crowded. Gaunt ill-shaven men, each a parody of one of the
Seven Deadly Sins, capered grotesquely with daughters of Rahab in cheap
hats and feathers. Shop assistants and neat, bare-headed work-girls,
students picturesquely long-haired and floppily trousered and cravated,
and poorly clad models, a whole army of nondescripts, heaven knows with
what means of livelihood, all dancing, drinking, eating, laughing,
jesting, smoking, primitively love-making, moving, shouting, a
phantasmagoria of souls making merry beyond the pale of reputable life;
such were the frequenters of the Bal Jasmin. Gas flared in two
concentric circles of flame around the hall and around the central
bandstand. There was no ventilation. The _bal_ sweltered in
perspiration. Hollow-voiced abjects hawked penny paper fans between the
dances, and the whole room was a-flutter.

Blanquette, who had forgotten tragedy for the time, sat with me at a
table by the balustrade and alternately sipped her syrup and water and
looked, full of interest, at the scene below, now and then clutching my
arm to direct my attention to startling personalities. The light in her
eyes and the colour in her coarse cheeks made her almost pretty. You
have never seen ugliness in a happy face. And Blanquette was happy.

"Don't you want to go and dance with any other _petite femme_?" she
asked generously. "I will wait for you here."

I declined with equal magnanimity to leave her alone.

"Suppose some rapscallion came up and asked you to dance?"

"I can take care of myself, _mon petit_ Asticot," she laughed, bracing
her strong arms. "And suppose I wanted to go off with him? They are
amusing sometimes, people like that. There is one. _Regarde-moi ce
type-là._"

The "_type_" in question was a fox-faced young man, unwashed and
collarless, wearing the peaked cap of Paris villainy. He crossed the
hall accompanied by two of the brazenest hussies that ever emerged from
the shadow of the fortifications. As they passed the sergent de ville
they all cocked themselves up with an air of braggadocio.

"He makes me shiver," said I. Blanquette shrugged her shoulders.

"One must have all sorts of people in the world, as there are so many
things to make people different. It is only a chance that I have not
become like those girls. It's no one's fault."

"'There, but by the grace of God, goes John Bunyan,'" I quoted
reflectively. "You are developing philosophy, Blanquette _chérie_, and
your gentle toleration of the infamous does you credit. But only the
master would get what wasn't infamous out of them."

The band struck up a waltz. Blanquette drank her syrup quickly and rose.

"Come and dance."

We descended and soon were swept along in the whirl of ragamuffin,
ill-conditioned couples dancing every step in the tradition of Paris.
Steering was no easy matter. After a while, we were hemmed in near the
side of the hall, and were just on the point of emerging from the crush
when the sound of a voice brought us to a dead stop which caused us to
be knocked about like a pair of footballs.

"My good Monsieur Bubu le Vainqueur, you do me infinite honour, but
until I have devoured the proceeds of my last crime I lead a life of
elegant leisure."

We escaped from danger and reaching the side stood and looked at each
other in stupefaction. Blanquette was the first to see him. She seized
my arm and pointed.

"It is he! _Sainte Vierge_, it is he!"

It was he. He was sitting at a table a few yards off, and his companions
were the fox-faced youth and the two girls over whom Blanquette had
philosophised. He wore his silk hat. Brandy was in front of him. He
seemed to be on familiar terms with his friends. For a long time we
watched him, fascinated, not daring to accost him and yet unwilling to
edge away out of his sight and make our escape from the ball. I saw that
he was incredibly dirty. His beard of some days growth gave him a
peculiarly grim appearance. His hat had rolled in the mud and was
everything a silk hat ought not to be. His linen was black. Never had
the garb of respectability been so battered into the vesture of
disrepute.

Suddenly he caught sight of us. He hesitated for a moment; then waved us
a bland, unashamed salutation. We went up the nearest steps to the
gallery and waited. After a polite leave-taking he bowed to his
companions, and reeled towards us. I knew by the familiar gait that he
had had many cognacs and absinthes during the day.

But what in the name of sanity was he doing here?

"_Mon dieu, mon dieu, qu'est-ce qu'il fait ici?_" asked Blanquette.

I shook my head. It was stupefying.

"_Eh bien, mes enfants_, you have come to amuse yourselves, eh? I too,
in the company of my excellent friend Bubu le Vainqueur, whose
acquaintance together with that of his fair companions I would not
advise you to cultivate."

"But Master," I gasped, "what has happened?"

"I'll veil it, my son," said he, laying his hand on my shoulder, "in the
decent obscurity of a learned language, '_Canis reversus ad suum vomitum
et sus lota in volutabro luti_.'"

"_Oh, mon Dieu_," sighed Blanquette again, as if it were something too
appalling.

"But why, Master?" I entreated.

"Why wallow? Why not? And now, my little Blanquette, we will all go home
and you shall make me some good coffee. Or do you want to stay longer
and dance with Asticot?"

"Oh, let us go away, Master," said Blanquette, casting a scared glance
at Bubu le Vainqueur, who was watching us with an interested air.

"_Allons_," said Paragot, blandly.

The dance stopped, and the thirsty crowd surged to the gallery. We
threaded our way towards the door, and I thought with burning cheeks
that the eyes of the whole assembly were turned to my master's mud-caked
silk hat. It was a relief to escape from the noise and gas-light of the
_bal_, which had suddenly lost its glamour, into the cool and quiet
street. After we had walked a few yards in silence, he hooked his arms
in Blanquette's and mine, and broke into a loud laugh.

"But it is astonishing, the age of you children! You might be fifty,
each of you, and I your little boy whom you had discovered in an act of
naughtiness and were bringing home! Really are you as displeased with me
_à ce point-là? C'est épatant_! But laugh, my little Blanquette, are you
not glad to see me?"

"But yes, Master," said Blanquette. "It is like a dream."

"And you, Asticot of my heart?"

"I find it a dream too. I can't understand. When did you leave Melford?"

"About five days ago. I would tell you the day of the week, if I had the
habit of exactness."

"And Madame de Verneuil?"

"Is very well, thank you."

After this rebuff I asked no more questions. I remarked that the weather
was still cold. Paragot laughed again.

"He has turned into a nice little bourgeois, hasn't he, Blanquette? He
knows how to make polite conversation. He is tidy in his habits in the
Rue des Saladiers, eh? He does not spit on the floor or spill absinthe
over the counterpane. _Ah! je suis un vieux salaud, hein?_ Don't say no.
And Narcisse?"

"It is he who will be contented to see you," cried Blanquette. "And so
are we all. _Ah oui, en effet, je suis contente!_" She heaved a great
sigh as though she had awakened from the night-mare of seeing herself a
dripping corpse in the Morgue. "It is no longer the same thing when you
are not in the house. Truly I am happy, Master. You can't understand."

There was a little throb in her voice which Paragot seemed to notice,
for as he bent down to her, his grip of my arm relaxed, and, I suppose,
his grip of hers tightened.

"It gives you such pleasure that I come back, my little Blanquette?" he
said tenderly.

I craned my head forward and saw her raise her faithful eyes to his and
smile, as she pronounced her eternal "_Oui, Maître_."

"It is only Asticot who does not welcome the prodigal father."

I protested. He laughed away my protestations. Then suddenly he stopped
and drew a long breath, and gazed at the tall houses whose lines cut the
frosty sky into a straight strip.

"Ah! how good it smells. How good it is to be in Paris again!"

The door of a _marchand de vin_ swung open just by our noses to give
exit to a reveller, and the hot poisoned air streamed forth.

"And how good it is, the smell of alcohols. I could kiss the honest sot
who has just reeled out and is skating across the road. _A bas les
bourgeois!_"

He did not carry out his unpleasing desire, but when we reached the
salon in the Rue des Saladiers, and we had lit the lamp, he kissed
Blanquette on both cheeks, still crying out how good it was to be back.
Narcisse, mad with delight, capered about him and barked his rapture. He
did not in the least mind a master lapsed from grace.

Paragot threw himself on a chair, his hat still on his head. Oh, how
dirty, dilapidated and unshaven he was! I felt too miserable with
apprehension to emulate Narcisse's enthusiasm. It was cold. I opened the
door of the stove to let the glowing heat come out into the room.
Blanquette went to the kitchen to prepare the coffee.

Suddenly Paragot leaped to his feet, cast his silk hat on the floor and
stamped it into a pancake. Then he thrust it into the stove and shut the
door.

"_Voilà!_" he cried.

Before I could interfere he had taken off his frock-coat and holding one
skirt in his hands and securing the other with his foot had ripped it
from waist to neck. He was going to burn this also, when I stopped him.

"_Laisse-moi!_" said he impatiently.

"It will make such a horrid smell, Master," said I.

He threw the garment across the room with a laugh.

"It is true." He stretched himself and waved his arms. "Ah, now I am
better. Now I am Paragot. Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, again. Now I am
free from the forms and symbols. Yes, my son. That hat has been to me
Luke's iron crown. That coat has been the _peine forte et dure_ crushing
my infinite soul into my liver." He tore off his black tie and hurled it
away from him. "This has been strangling every noble inspiration. I have
been swathed in mummy bands of convention. I have been dead. I have come
to life. My lungs are full. My soul regains its limitless horizons. My
swollen tongue is cool, and _nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu_, I can talk
again!"

He walked up and down the little salon vociferating his freedom, and
kicking the remains of the frock-coat before him. With one of his sudden
impulses he picked it up and threw it out of a quickly opened window.

"The sight of it offended me," he explained.

"Master," said I, "where are your other things?"

"What other things?"

"Your luggage--your great coat--your umbrella."

"Why, at Melford," said he with an air of surprise. "Where else should
they be?"

I had thought that no action of Paragot could astonish me. I was wrong.
I stared at him as stupefied as ever.

"Usually people travel with their luggage," said I, foolishly.

"They are usual people, my son. I am not one of them. It came to a point
when I must either expire or go. I decided not to expire. These things
are done all in a flash. I was walking in the garden. It was last Sunday
afternoon--I remember now: a sodden November day. Imagine a sodden
November Sunday afternoon English country-town garden. Joanna was at a
children's service. Ah, _mon Dieu_! The desolation of that Sunday
afternoon! The _death_, my son, that was in the air! Ah! I choked, I
struggled. The garden-wall, the leaden sky closed in upon me. I walked
out. I came back to Paris."

"Just like that?" I murmured.

"Just like that," said he. "You may have noticed, my son, that I am a
man of swift decisions and prompt action. I walked to the Railway
Station. A providential London train was expected in five minutes. I
took it. _Voilà._"

"Did you stay long in London?" I asked by way of saying something; for
he began to pace up and down the room.

"Did I see anything worth seeing at the theatres? And did I have a good
crossing? My little Asticot, I perceive you have become an adept at
conventional conversation. If you can't say something original I shall
go back to Bubu le Vainqueur, whose society for the last three days has
afforded me infinite delectation. Although his views of life may be what
Melford would call depraved, at any rate they are first-hand. He does
not waste his time in futile politeness." Suddenly he paused, and seized
me by the shoulder and shook me, as he had often done before. "Creep out
of that shell of gentility, you little hermit-crab," he cried, "and tell
me how you would like to live in Melford for the rest of your natural
life."

"I shouldn't like it at all," said I.

"Then, how do you expect me to have liked it?"

Blanquette entered with the great white coffee jug and some thick cups
and set the tray on the oilskin-covered table. Seeing Paragot in his
grubby shirt-sleeves, she looked around, with her housewifely instinct
of tidiness, for the discarded garments.

"Where are--"

"Gone," he shouted, waving his arms. "Cast into the flames, and rent in
twain, and scattered to the winds of Heaven."

He laughed, seeing that she did not understand, and poured out a jorum
of coffee.

"The farcical comedy is over, Blanquette," said he gently, "I'm a
_Monsieur_ no longer, do you see? We are going to live just as we did
before you went away in the summer, and I am not going to be married. I
am going to live with my little Blanquette for ever and ever _in sæculo
sæculorum, amen_."

She turned as white as the coffee jug. I thought she was about to faint
and caught her in my arms. She did not faint, but burying her head
against my shoulder burst into a passion of tears.

"What the devil's the matter?" asked Paragot. "Are you sorry I'm not
going to be married?"

"_Mais non, mais non!_" Blanquette sobbed out vehemently.

"I think she's rather glad, Master," said I.

He put down his coffee-cup, and laid his hands on her as if to draw her
comfortingly away from me.

"My dear child--" he began.

But she shrank back. "_Ah non, laissez-moi_," she cried, and bolted from
the room.

Paragot looked at me inquiringly, and shrugged his shoulders.

"The eternal feminine, I suppose. Blanquette like the rest of them."

"It's odd you haven't noticed it before, Master."

"Noticed what?"

I lit a cigarette.

"The eternal feminine in Blanquette," I answered.

"What the deuce do you mean?"

"She was jealous even of my friendship with Madame de Verneuil," said I
diplomatically, realising that I was on the point of betraying
Blanquette's confidences.

"It never struck me that she was jealous," he remarked simply.

He took his coffee-cup to the rickety sofa and sat down with the sigh of
a tired man. I took mine to the chair by the stove, and we drank
silently. I have never felt so hopelessly miserable in my life as I did
that night. I was old enough, or perhaps rather I had gathered
experience enough, to feel a shock of disgust at Paragot's return _in
volutabro luti_. In what sordid den had he found shelter these last days
of reaction? I shuddered, and loving him I hated myself for shuddering.
Yet I understood. He was a man of extremes. Having fled from the
intolerable virtues of Melford, with the nostalgia of the vagabond life
devouring him like a flame, he could not have been expected to return
tamely to the Rue des Saladiers. He had plunged head foremost into the
depths. But Bubu le Vainqueur! The Latin Quarter was not exactly a
Sunday School; very probably it flirted with Bubu's lady companions; but
between Bubu and itself it raised an impassable barrier.

The idyll too was over. He had left my dear lady Joanna without drum or
trumpet. As my destiny hung with his, I should never behold her adored
face again. All the graciousness seemed suddenly to be swept out of my
life. I pictured her forsaken, heartbroken, for the second time, weeping
bitterly over this repetition of history, and including me in her
indictment of my master. At nineteen we are all presumptuous egotists:
if I mixed pity for myself with sorrow for Joanna and dismay for my
master, I am not too greatly to be blamed. The best emotions of older,
wiser and better men than I are often blends of queer elements.

The romance was dead. There was no more Joanna. I broke down and shed
tears into my coffee-cup.

Paragot snored.



CHAPTER XXII


I SPENT the night on the sofa, as the only bed in the establishment
belonged to Paragot. The next morning I took my scanty belongings to my
old attic, which fortunately happened to be unlet, and left my master in
undisturbed possession of his apartment. In the evening, calling to make
polite inquiries as to his health, I found him still in bed looking
grimier and bristlier than the night before.

"My son," said he, "the bread of liberty is sweet, but when you are
starving you should not over-eat yourself. An old French writer says:

          '_Après le plaisir vient la peine,
            Après la peine la vertu._'

I've had the pain that follows pleasure, but whether I shall attain the
consequential virtue I don't know. For the present, however, I am
condemned to it against my will."

"How so?" I asked.

"I have a great desire to rise and seek the Nepenthe of the Café
Delphine, but a whimsical fate keeps me coatless and hatless in a
virtuous house. I am also comparatively shirtless, which does not so
much matter."

"I'm afraid my things wouldn't fit you, Master," said I sitting on the
edge of the bed.

"The only coat which the good Blanquette has preserved is the
pearl-buttoned velveteen jacket in which I fiddled away so many happy
hours."

"Why not wear it, until your bag arrives from Melford?"

"In Arcadian villages," he replied, "it commanded respect. In the Café
Delphine I'm afraid it would only excite derision."

Presently a strong odour of onions gave promise of an approaching meal,
and a little while afterwards Blanquette entered with the announcement
that soup was on the table. Paragot rose, donned trousers and slippers
and went forth into the salon to dine.

"Simplicity is one of the canons of high art. Life is an art, as I have
endeavoured to teach you. Therefore in life we should aim at simplicity.
To complicate existence into the intricacy of a steam-engine with white
ties and red socks is an offence against art of which I will never again
be guilty. It is also more comfortable to eat soup with your elbows on
the table. _N'est-ce pas_, Blanquette?"

"_Bien sûr_," she replied, bending over her bowl, "where else could one
put them?"

This pleased Paragot, who continued to talk in high good humour during
the rest of the meal. Afterwards, he filled a new porcelain pipe, which
Blanquette had purchased, and smoked contentedly the rest of the
evening. Blanquette sat dutifully on a straight-backed chair, her hands
in her lap, listening as she had so often done before to our inspiring
conversation, and adding her word whenever it entered the area of her
comprehension. If we had lectured each other alternately on the Integral
Calculus, Blanquette would have given us her rapt and happy attention.
This evening she would not have minded our talking English; the mere
sound of the Master's voice was sweet: sweeter than ever, now that the
other woman had been "planted there" (she thought of it with a fierce
joy), and the master had come back to her for ever and ever, _in sæculo
sæculorum, amen_. Like many peasant women of strong nature, she had the
terrible passion of possession. In her soul she would rather have had
the most degraded of Paragots in her arms, as her own unalienable
property, than have seen him honourable and prosperous in the arms of
another. Had she been of a nervous and emotional temperament there might
have been tragedy in the Rue des Saladiers, and the newspapers of Paris
might have chronicled yet another _crime passionnel_ and the appearance
of Blanquette before a weeping jury. But the days of tragedy were over.
Paragot thundered invectives against insincerity in Art (we were
discussing my famous mythological picture still on the easel at
Menilmontant) and Blanquette beamed approval. She remarked, referring to
my picture, that she didn't like so many unclad ladies. It was not
decent. Besides, if they lay in the grass like that, they would catch
cold.

"And they have no pocket-handkerchiefs to blow their noses," cried
Paragot.

Whereat Blanquette's sense of humour being tickled she screamed with
laughter. Narcisse sprang from sleep and barked, and there reigned great
happiness, in which even I, still reproachful of my master, had my
share.

"What a thing it is to be at home!" observed Paragot.

I had never heard him utter so domestic a sentiment.

"'After pleasure follows pain and after pain comes virtue.' This is
virtue with a vengeance," I reflected cynically.

"_Bien sûr_," was Blanquette's inevitable response.

When she bade us good night, Paragot drew her down and kissed her cheek,
which was an unprecedented mark of domesticity. Blanquette turned
brick-red, and I suppose her foolish heart beat wildly. I have known my
own heart to beat wildly for far less, and I am not a woman; but I have
been in love.

"It is because you belong to me, my little Blanquette, and I am among
mine own people. We understand one another, don't we? _Et tout
comprendre c'est tout pardonner._"

When she had gone he smoked reflectively for a few moments.

"I never realised till now," said he, "the sense of stability and
comfort that Blanquette affords me. She is unchangeable. God has given
her a sense whereby she has pierced to the innermost thing that is I,
and externals don't matter. She has got nearer the true Paragot than
you, my son, although I know you love me."

"What is the true Paragot, Master?" I asked.

"There are only two that know it--Blanquette and the _bon Dieu_. I
don't."

"I only know," said I, "that I owe my life to you and that I love you
more than any one else in the world."

"Even more than Mme. de Verneuil?" he asked with a smile.

I blushed. "She is different," said I.

"Quite different," he assented, after a long pause. "My son," he added,
"it is right that you should know why the end came. One generally keeps
these things to oneself--but I see you are blaming me, and a barrier may
grow up between us which we should both regret. You think I have treated
your dear lady most cruelly?"

"I can't judge you, Master," said I, terribly embarrassed.

"But you do," said he.

Paragot was in one of his rare gentle moods. He spoke softly, without a
trace of reproach or irony. He spoke, too, lying pipe in mouth on the
old rep sofa, instead of walking about the room. He told me his story.
Need I repeat it?

They had escaped a life-long misery, but on the other hand they had lost
a life-long dream. She was still in his eyes all that is beautiful and
exquisite in woman; but she was not the woman that Berzélius Nibbidard
Paragot could love. The twain had been romantic, walking in the Valley
of Illusion, wilfully blinding their eyes to the irony of Things Real.
Love had flown far from them during the silent years and they had
mistaken the afterglow of his wings for the living radiance. They had
begun to realise the desolate truth. They read it in each other's eyes.
She had been too loyal to speak. She would have married him, hoping as a
woman hopes, against hope. Paragot, whose soul revolted from pretence,
preferring real mire to sham down, fled from the piteous tragedy.

He might have retired more conventionally. He might have had a dismal
explanatory interview with Joanna, and ordered a fly to convey himself
and his luggage to the Railway Station the next morning. Perhaps if
Joanna had found him in the November Sunday afternoon garden this might
have occurred. But Joanna did not find him. His temperament found him
instead; and when you have a temperament like Paragot's, it plays the
very deuce with convention. It drew him out of the garden, across the
Channel and into the society of Bubu le Vainqueur. But, all the same, in
the essential act of leaving Melford, Paragot behaved like the man of
fine honour I shall always maintain him to be.

How many men of speckless reputation, though feeling the pinch of
poverty, would not have married Joanna for the great wealth her husband
left behind? Answer me that.

I know that Joanna wept bitterly over her lost romance. But she has
owned to me that the words written on a scrap of paper by Paragot and
posted from London were tragically true:

"My dear. It is only the shadows of our past selves that love. You and I
are strangers to each other. To continue this sweet pretence of love is
a mockery of the Holiest. God bless you. Gaston."

"If you love a Dream Woman," said Paragot, "let her stay the divine
Woman of the Dream. To awaken and clasp flesh and blood, no matter how
delicately tender, and find that love has sped at the dawn is a misery
too deep for tears."

And Paragot, lying unshaven, unwashed, in grimy shirt and trousers,
smoked silently and stared into a future in which the dear sweet Dream
Woman with "the little feet so adored" would never, never again have a
place.

"If I had a coat to my back," said he, after nearly half an hour's
silence, "I verily believe I would go to the Pont Neuf and talk to Henri
Quatre."

       *       *       *       *       *

_Le Fou Rire_ had given me a commission for a front page in colours; and
I was deep in the disreputable task on the following evening when
Paragot appeared in my attic. He wore a jacket, his bag having arrived
from Melford.

"My soul hungers," said he, "for the Café Delphine, and my throat
thirsts for sociable alcohol. If you can cease the prostitution of your
art to a salacious public for an hour or two, I shall be very glad of
your company."

"I think it's rather good," said I complacently, regarding the drawing
with head bent sideways. "It's an old theme, but it's up to date. At
Janot's they would say it was palpitating with modernity."

"That's what makes it vile," said Paragot.

We were thrown into immediate argument. One of the flying art notions of
the hour was to revive the old subjects which contained the eternal
essentials of life and present them in "palpitatingly modern" form. I
eloquently developed my thesis. We were sick to death, for instance, of
the quasi-scriptural Prodigal Son, sitting half-naked in a desert beside
a swine trough. Was it not more "palpitating" to set the prodigal in
modern Paris?

"Your moderns can't palpitate with dignity, my son," replied Paragot.
"Take Susannah and the Elders. Classically treated the subject might yet
produce one of the greatest pictures of all time. Translate it into the
grocer's wife and the two churchwardens and you cannot escape from
bestial vulgarity."

Conscious of the wide horizon of extreme youth, I sighed at my master's
narrowness. He was hopelessly behind the times. I dropped the argument
and hunted for my cap.

We found the Café Delphine fairly full. Madame Boin, whom the past few
months had provided with a few more rolls of fat round her neck, gave a
little gasp as she caught sight of Paragot, and held out her hand over
the counter.

"Is it really you, Monsieur Paragot? One sees you no more. How is that?
But it is charming. Ah? You have been _en voyage_? In England? _On dit
que c'est beau là-bas._ And where will you sit? Your place is taken. It
is Monsieur Papillard, the poet, who has sat there for a month. We will
find another table. There is one that is free."

She pointed to a draughty, unconsidered table by the door. Paragot
looked at it, then at Madame Boin and then at his own private and
particular table usurped by Monsieur Papillard and his associates, and
swore a stupefied oath of considerable complication. A weird, pug-nosed,
pig-eyed, creature with a goatee beard scarce masking a receding chin,
sat in the sacred seat against the wall. His hat and cloak were hung on
Paragot's peg. He was reading a poem to half a dozen youths who seemed
all to be drinking _mazagrans_, or coffee in long glasses. They combined
an air of intellectual intensity with one of lyrical enthusiasm, like
little owls pretending to be larks. Not one of the old set was there to
smile a welcome.

We stood by the counter listening to the poem. When Monsieur Papillard
had ended, the youths broke into applause.

"_C'est superbe!_"

"_Un chef d'oeuvre, cher maître._"

They called the pug-nosed creature, _cher maître_!

"It is demented idiocy," murmured my astounded master.

At that moment entered Félicien Garbure, a down-at-heel elderly man, who
had been wont to sit at Paragot's table. He was one of those parasitic
personages not unknown in the _Quartier_, who contrived to attach
themselves to the special circle of a café, and to drink as much as
possible at other people's expense. His education and intelligence would
have disgraced a Paris cabman, but an ironical Providence had invested
him with an air of wisdom which gave to his flattery the value of
profound criticism.

This sycophant greeted us with effusion. Where had we been? Why had the
delightful band been dispersed? Did we know Monsieur Papillard, the
great poet? Before we could reply he approached the chair.

"_Cher maître_, permit me to present to you my friends Monsieur
Berzélius Paragot and Monsieur Asticot."

"_Enchanté, Messieurs_," said the great poet urbanely.

We likewise avowed our enchantment, and Paragot swore beneath his
breath. The waiter--no longer Hercule, who had been dismissed for petty
thievery some time before--but a new waiter who did not know
Paragot--set us chairs at the end of the table far away from the great
man. We ordered drinks. Paragot emptied his glass in an absent-minded
manner, still under the shock of his downfall. But a few short months
ago he had ruled in this place as king. Now he was patronizingly
presented to the snub-nosed, idiot usurper by Félicien Garbure. _His_
friend, Berzélius Paragot! _Nom de Dieu!_ And he was assigned a humble
place below the salt. Verily the world was upside down.

"Give me another _grog_," said Paragot, "a double one."

The poet read another poem. It was something about topazes and serpents
and the twilight and the pink palms of a negress. More I could not
gather. The company hailed it as another masterpiece. Félicien Garbure
called it a supreme effort of genius. A young man beside Paragot vaunted
its witchery of suggestion.

"It is absolute nonsense," cried my master.

"But it is symbolism, Monsieur," replied the young man in a tone of
indulgent pity.

"What does it mean?"

The young man--he was very kind--smiled and shrugged his shoulders
politely.

"What in common speech is the meaning of one of Bach's fugues or Claude
Monet's effects of sunlight? One cannot say. They appeal direct to the
soul. So does a subtle harmony of words, using words as notes of music,
or pigments, what you will, arranged by the magic of a master. These
things are transcendental, Monsieur."

"_Saperlipopette!_" breathed Paragot. "My little Asticot," he whispered
to me, "have I really come to this, to sit at the feet of an acting
pro-sub-vice-deputy infant Gamaliel and be taught the elements of
symbolic poetry?"

"But Master," said I, somewhat captivated by the balderdash, "there is,
after all, colour in words. Don't you remember how delighted you were
with the name of a little town we passed through on our way to
Orléans--Romorantin? You were haunted by it and said it was like the
purple note of an organ."

"Which shews you my son that I was aware of the jargon of symbolism
before these goslings were hatched," he replied.

He drained his tumbler, called the waiter and paid the reckoning.

"Let us go to Père Louviot's in the Halles where we can meet some real
men and women."

We went, and the Café Delphine knew Paragot no more.

       *       *       *       *       *

After this he took to frequenting indiscriminately the various cafés of
the neighbourhood, wandering from one to the other like a lost soul
seeking a habitation. Now and again he hit upon fragments of the old
band, who had migrated from the Café Delphine when it became the home of
the symbolic poets. He tried in vain to collect the fragments together
in a new hostelry. But the cohesive force had gone. These queer circles
of the Latin Quarter are organisms of spontaneous growth. You cannot
create them artificially or re-create them when once they are
disintegrated. The twos and threes of students received him kindly and
listened to his talk; but his authority was gone. Once or twice when I
accompanied him I fancied that he had lost also the peculiar magic of
his vehement utterances. Cazalet also noticed a change.

"What is the matter with Paragot? He no longer talks. He preaches. _Ça
ennuie à la fin._"

Paragot a bore! It was unimaginable.

Was he paying the penalty of his past respectability? Had Melford
repressed his noble rage and frozen the genial current of his soul? It
is not unlikely. He often found himself condemned to solitary toping
over a stained newspaper, one of the most ungleeful joys known to man.
Sometimes he played dominoes with Félicien Garbure, now icily received
by the symbolists on account of an unpaid score. Whether desperation
drove him occasionally to Bubu le Vainqueur and his friends I do not
know. He was not really proud of his acquaintance with Bubu. Once he
whimsically remarked that as he was half way between Gaston de Nérac and
Berzélius Paragot, and therefore neither fish nor fowl, he could not
find an appropriate hole in Paris. But when his hair and his beard and
his finger nails had attained their old luxuriance of growth, and he
was in every way Paragot again, the desired haven remained still
unfindable. There were taverns without number and drink in oceans, and
the life of Paris surged up and down the Boulevards as stimulating as
ever: but the heart of Paragot cried out for something different. He
took the old violin from its dirty case and spent hours in the Rue des
Saladiers trying to fiddle the divine despair out of his system.
Sometimes he would call upon Blanquette to accompany him on her almost
forgotten zither.

One day he was with me at the Café opposite Janot's, when two or three
of the studio came in and sat at our table. There was the usual eager
talk. The subject, the new impressionism.

"But to understand it, you must be in the movement," cried Fougère, not
dreaming of discourtesy.

But Paragot took the saying to heart.

"I see it now," said he afterwards. "I am no longer in the movement. You
young men have passed me by. I am left stranded. You may ask why I don't
seek the company of my own contemporaries? Who are they that know me,
save worthless rags like Félicien Garbure? Stranded, my son. I have had
my day."

After that he refused to talk at such social gatherings as chance
afforded, and moodily listened, while he consumed profitless alcohol.
Then he began to frequent the low-life cafés of the Halles. When he had
nearly poisoned himself with vile absinthe and sickened himself with the
conversation of fishwives, he sent for me in despair.

I found him half-dressed walking up and down the salon. He looked very
ill.

"I am going to leave Paris to-day," he began, as soon as I entered. "It
is a city of Dead Sea apples. It has no place for me, save the sewer. I
don't like the sewer. I am going away. I shall never come back to Paris
again."

"But where are you going, Master?" I asked in some surprise.

He did not know. He would pack his bundle and flee like Christian from
the accursed city. Like Christian he would go on a Pilgrim's Progress.
He would seek sweet pure things. He would go forth and work in the
fields. The old life had come to an end. The sow had been mistaken. It
could not return to its wallowing in the mire. Wallowing was disgustful.
Was ever man in such a position? The vagabond life had made the
conventions of civilisation impossible. The contact with convention and
clean English ways had killed his zest for the old order of which only
the mud remained. There was nothing for it but to leave Paris.

He poured out his heart to me in a torrent of excited words, here and
there none too coherent. He must work. He had lost the great art by
which he was to cover Europe with palaces. That was no longer.

"My God!" said he stopping short. "The true knowledge of it has only
come to me lately. I was living in a Fool's Paradise. I could never have
designed a building. I should have lived on her bounty. Thank God I was
saved the shame of it."

He went on. Again he repeated his intention of leaving Paris. I must
look after Blanquette for the present. He must go and dree his weird
alone.

"And yet, my little Asticot, it is the dreadful loneliness that
frightens me. Once I had a dream. It sufficed me. But now my soul is
empty. A man needs a woman in his life, even a Dream Woman. But for me,
_ni-ni, c'est fini_. There is not a woman in the wide world who would
look at me now."

"Master," said I, "if you are going to settle down in the country, why
don't you marry Blanquette?"

"Marry Blanquette! Marry----"

He regarded me in simple, undisguised amazement which took his breath
away. He passed his hand through his hair and sat on the nearest seat.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" said he, "I never thought of it!"

Then he leaped up and caught me in the old way by the shoulders, and
cried in French, as he did in moments of great excitement:

"But it's colossal, that idea! It is the solution of everything. And I
never thought of it though it has been staring me in the face. Why I
love her, our little Blanquette. I have loved her all the time without
knowing it as the good Monsieur Jourdain spoke prose. _Sacré nom d'un
petit bonhomme!_ Why didn't you tell me before, confounded little animal
that you are?"

He swung me with a laugh, to the other side of the room, and waved his
arms grotesquely, as he continued his dithyrambic eulogy of the colossal
idea. I have never seen two minutes produce a greater change in a human
countenance. Ten years fell from it. He looked even younger than when he
had broken his fiddle over Mr. Pogson's head and received the
inspiration of our vagabondage. His blue eyes cleared, and in them shone
the miraculous light of laughter.

"But it was written, my son Asticot. It was preordained. She is the one
woman in the world to whom I need not pretend to be other than I am. She
is _real, nom de Dieu_! What she says is Blanquette, what she does is
Blanquette, and her sayings and doings would grace the greatest Queen in
Christendom. But, have you thought of it? I have come indeed to the end
of my journey. I started out to find Truth, the Reality of Things. I
have found it. I have found it, my son. It is a woman, strong and
steadfast, who looks into your eyes; who can help a man to accomplish
his destiny. And the destiny of man is to work, and to beget strong
children. And his reward is to have the light in the wife's eyes and the
welcome of a child's voice as he crosses the threshold of his house. And
it cleanses a man. But Blanquette----" he smote his forehead, and burst
into excited laughter. "Why did it not enter into this idiot head
before?"

The laughter ceased all of a sudden, and at least three years returned
to his face.

"It takes two parties to make a marriage," said he in a chastened tone.
"Blanquette is young. I am not. She may be thinking of a future quite
different. It is all very well to say I will marry Blanquette, but will
Blanquette marry me?"

"Master," said I, feeling a person of elderly experience, "it was
entirely on your account that Blanquette refused the _quincaillier_ at
the corner of the street."

I had learned from her the day before that the superior hardware
merchant had recently made her a ceremonious offer of marriage.

"A sense of duty, perhaps," said Paragot.

I laughed at his seriousness.

"But, Master, she has been eating her heart out for you since the
wedding at Chambéry."

"Asticot," said he, planting himself in front of me, "are you jesting or
speaking what you know to be the truth?"

"The absolute truth."

"And you never told me? You knew that a real woman loved me, and you let
me chase a will-o'-the-wisp with gloves and an umbrella? Truly a man's
foes are of his own household."

"But, Master----" I began.

He laughed at the sight of my dejected face.

"No, you were loyal, my son. The man who gives away a woman's
confidence, even when she avows the poisoning of her husband and the
strangulation of her babes, is a transpontine villain."

He took up his porcelain pipe and filled it from the blue packet of
caporal that lay on the table with the oilskin cover. He struck a match
and was about to apply it to the bowl, when one of his sudden ideas
caused him to blow out the match and lay down the pipe. Then with his
old lightning swiftness he strode to the door and flung it open.

"Blanquette! Blanquette!" he cried.

"_Oui, maître_," came from the kitchen, and in a moment Blanquette
entered the room.

He took her by the hand and led her to the centre, while she regarded
him somewhat mystified. With his heels together, he made her a correct
bow.

"Blanquette," said he, "in the presence of Asticot as witness I ask you
to do me the honour to become my wife."

It was magnificent; it was what Paragot would have called _vieille
école_; but it was not tactful. It was half an hour before Blanquette
fully grasped the situation.



CHAPTER XXIII


JOANNA married Major Walters, as soon as the conventionalities would
permit.

She wrote then, for the first time, to Paragot.

"I bear you no malice, my dear Gaston, and I am sure you bear me none.
Your breaking off of our engagement was the only way out of a fantastic
situation. You might have broken it less abruptly; but you were always
sudden. If I may believe Asticot, your own marriage was a lightning
incident. I can laugh now, and so I suppose can your wife; but believe
me this sort of thing does leave a woman rather breathless.

"Wish me happiness, as I wish you. If ever we meet it will be as loyal
friends."

Could woman have spoken more sweetly?

"My dear Joanna," replied Paragot, "I do wish you all the happiness in
the world. You can't fail to have it. You have a real husband as I have
a real wife. Let us thank heaven we have escaped from the moon vapour of
the Ideal, in which we poor humans are apt to lose our way and stray God
knows whither. I am sending you a real marriage gift."

"My dear Asticot," wrote Joanna from an hotel in Florence, "what do you
think your delightful but absurd master has sent me as a wedding
present? It arrived here this morning, to the consternation of the
whole hotel. A crate containing six live ducks. The label stated that
they were real ducks fed by his own hand.

"But what am I to do with six live ducks on a wedding journey, my dear
Asticot? I can't sell them. I hate the idea of eating them--and even if
I didn't, Major Walters and I can't eat six. And I can't put blue
ribbons round their necks, and carry them about with me on my travels as
pets. Can't you see me walking over the Ponte Vecchio followed by them
as by a string of poodles? And they are so voracious. The hotel people
are already charging them full pension terms. Oh, dear! Do tell me what
I am to do with these dreadful fowl!"

"My dearest Lady," I answered. "Offer the ducks like the Dunmow flitch
of bacon to the most happily married couple in Florence."

Whether Joanna acted on my brilliant suggestion I cannot say. A little
while ago I enquired after their ultimate destiny; but Joanna had
forgotten. I believe Major Walters and herself fled from them secretly.

Paragot on his label stated that he had fed the ducks with his own hand.
This was practically true; indeed, in the case of those who declined to
nourish themselves to the requisite degree of fatness, it was literally
true. I have beheld him since perform the astounding operation, a sight
_Dis hominibusque_; but not in the Rue des Saladiers. It was on his own
farm, the farm near Chartres, which he bought, in his bewildering
fashion, as soon as lawyers could prepare the necessary documents. He
took train the day after his proposal of marriage to Blanquette, and
returned, I remember, somewhat crestfallen, because he could not
conclude the purchase then and there.

"My dear sir," said the lawyer whom he consulted, "you can't buy landed
property as you can a pound of sugar over a counter."

"Why not?" asked Paragot.

"Because," said the lawyer, "the law of France mercifully concedes to
men of my profession the right of gaining a livelihood."

"I see that you are a real lawyer," said Paragot, pleased by the irony,
"and it is an amiable Providence that has guided my steps to your
_cabinet_."

But Paragot was married, and the little _appartement_ in the Rue des
Saladiers passed into alien hands, and the newly wedded pair settled
down on the farm, long before all the legal formalities of purchase were
accomplished. It takes my breath away, even now, to think of the hurry
of those days. He decided human destinies in the fraction of a second.

"My son," said he, "when I have paid for this farm, I shall have very
little indeed of the capital, on the interest of which we have been
living. I am now a married man, with the responsibilities of a wife and
a future family. I have put £200 to your credit at the Crédit Lyonnais
and that is all your fortune. If art can't support you, when you have
spent it, you will have to come to La Haye (the farm) and feed pigs.
You'll be richer if you paint them; the piggier they are, and the
heavier the gold watch chains across their bellies, the richer you will
be; but you'll be happier if you feed them. _Crede experturo._"

I went to bed that night swearing a great oath that I would neither
paint pigs nor feed pigs, but that I would prove myself worthy of the
generosity of my master and benefactor. I felt then that his goodness
was great; but how great it was I only realised in after years when I
came to learn his financial position. Bearing in mind the relativity of
things, I know that few fathers have sent their sons out into the world
with so princely a capital.

Fortune smiled on me; why, I don't know; perhaps because I was small and
sandy haired and harmless, and did not worry her. I sold two or three
pictures, I obtained regular employment on an illustrated journal, and
raised my price for contributions to _Le Fou Rire_. Bread and butter
were assured. There was never prouder youth than I, when one August
morning I started from Paris for Chartres, with fifty superfluous pounds
in my pocket which I determined to restore to Paragot.

The old Paragot of the high roads, hairy and bronzed, and wearing a
great straw hat with wide brim turned down, met me at the little local
station. He forgot that he was half British and almost hugged me. At
last I had come--it was my third visit--at last I had torn myself away
from that _sacré_ Paris and its flesh-pots and its paint-pots and its
artificialities.

"Nothing is real in Paris, whether it be the smile on the painted lady's
lips or the dream of the young poet. Here, in the midst of God's fields,
there is no pretending, no shamming, no lying, none of your confounded
idealism. All is solid, _mon gars_. Solid like that," and he thumped his
chest to illustrate the argument.

"Bucéphale, too?" I queried with a laugh, as we fetched up beside the
most ancient horse in the Department, drooping between the shafts of a
springless cart. Needless to say, Bucéphale had been rechristened in his
extreme old age.

"He is a living proof," cried Paragot, "of the solidity _rerum
agrestium_. Look at him! Shew me a horse of his age in Paris. The Paris
horses, like Youth in the poem, grow pale and spectre thin and die of
premature decay. Here, _mon petit_," said he giving a sou to a blue
bloused urchin who was restraining the impetuous Bucéphale from a wild
gallop over the Eure et Loire, "when you have spent that come to La Haye
and I will give you another."

He threw my bag into the cart, and we took our places on the plank that
served as a seat.

"_En route_, Bucéphale!" cried Paragot, gathering up the reins. "Observe
the kindly manners of the country. If I had addressed him like your
Paris cabman with a '_Hue Cocotte!_' it would have wounded his
susceptibilities."

Bucéphale started off jog-trot down the straight white road edged with
poplars, while Paragot talked, and the sun blazed down upon us from a
cobalt sky. All around the fertile plain laughed in the sunshine--a
giant, contented laugh, like that of its broad-faced, broad-hipped
daughters who greeted Paragot as we raced by at the rate of five miles
an hour. Did I ever meet a Paris horse that went this speed? asked
Paragot, and I answered him truthfully, "Never."

We stopped in a white-walled, red-roofed village, beside a tiny shop
gloriously adorned with a gilt bull's head. The butcher's wife came out.
"_Bonjour_, Monsieur Paragot."

"_Bonjour_, Madame Jolivet, have you a nice fatted calf for this young
Prodigal from Paris? If you haven't, we can do with four kilos of good
beef."

And the result of ten minutes talk was a great lump of raw meat, badly
wrapped in newspaper, which Paragot, careless of my Paris clothes,
thrust on my knees, while he continued to drive Bucéphale. I dropped the
beef into the back of the cart. Paragot shook his head.

"To-morrow, my son, you shall be clothed in humility and shall clean out
the cow pen."

"I should prefer to accept your original invitation, Master," said I,
"and help with the corn."

For Paragot, besides Bucéphale and cows and ducks and pigs and fowls and
a meadow or two, possessed a patch of cornfield of which he was
passionately proud. He had sown it himself that spring and now was
harvest. He pointed to it with his whip as soon as we came in sight of
the farm.

"_My_ corn, my little Asticot. It is marvellous, eh? Who says that
Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot can't make things grow? I was born to it.
_Nom de Dieu_ I could make anything grow. I could plant your palette and
it would come up a landscape. And _sacré mille cochons_, I have done the
most miraculous thing of all. I am the father of a human being, a real
live human being, my son. He is small as yet," he added apologetically,
"but still he is alive. He has teeth, Asticot. It is the most remarkable
thing in this astonishing universe."

The dim form of a woman standing with a child in her arms in front of a
group of farm buildings across the fields to the right, gradually grew
into the familiar figure of my dear Blanquette. She came down the road
to meet us, her broad homely face beaming with gladness and in her eyes
a new light of welcome. Narcisse trotted at her heels. The rheumatism of
advancing years gave him a distinguished gait.

We sprang from the cart. Bucéphale left to himself regarded the family
meeting with a grandfatherly air, until an earth-coloured nondescript
emerged from the ground and led him off towards the house. After our
embraces, we followed, Paragot dancing the delighted infant, Blanquette
with her great motherly arm around my shoulders, and Narcisse soberly
sniffing for adventure, after the manner of elderly dogs.

"Do you remember, Asticot?" said Blanquette. "Four of us started for
Chambéry. Now five of us come to La Haye. _C'est drôle, hein?_"

"_Tu es contente?_" I asked.

Her arm tightened, and her eyes grew moist.

"_Mais oui_," she said in a low voice. Then she looked at Paragot and
the child, a yard or two in front of us.

"He is the image of his father," she said almost reverentially.

I burst out laughing. Where the likeness lay between the chubby,
snub-nosed, eighteen months old baby, and the hairy, battered Paragot,
no human eye but Blanquette's could discover. I vowed he resembled a
little Japanese idol.

"_Pauvre chéri_," said Blanquette, motherwise.

The house of Paragot was not a palace. It stood, low and whitewashed,
amid a medley of little tumble-down erections, and was guarded on one
side by cowsheds and on the other by the haystack. You stepped across
the threshold into the kitchen. A door on the right gave access to the
bedroom. A ladder connected with a hole in the roof enabled you to reach
the cockloft, the guest room of the establishment. That was all. What
on earth could man want more? asked Paragot. The old rep suite, the
table with the American cloth, the coloured prints in gilt frames
including the portrait of Garibaldi, the cheap deal bookcases holding
Paragot's tattered classics, gave the place an air of familiar
homeliness. A mattock, a gun and a cradle warred against old
associations.

When we entered, the child began to whimper. Perhaps it did not approve
of the gun. Like myself he may, in trembling fancy, have heard its owner
cry: "I have an inspiration! Let us go out and shoot cows." Paragot
found another reason.

"That infant's life is a perpetual rebellion against his name. I chose
Triptolème. A beautiful name. If you look at him you see it written all
over him. Blanquette was crazy for Thomas. In indignation I swore he
should be christened Triptolème Onésime. Blanquette wept. I yielded. 'At
least let him be called Didyme,' I pleaded. Didyme! There is something
caressing about Didyme. Repeat it. 'Didyme.' But no. Blanquette wept
louder. She wept so loud that all the ducks ran in to see whether I was
murdering her----"

"It is not true!" protested Blanquette. "How can you say those things?
You know they are not true."

"Her state was so terrible," continued my master, "that I sacrificed my
son's destiny. Behold Thomas. I too would howl if I had such a name."

"He is hungry," said Blanquette, "and it is a very pretty name. He likes
to hear it, _n'est-ce pas, mon petit Tho-Thom chéri_? There! He smiles."

"She is really convinced that he has heard her call him Thomas. Oh,
woman!" said Paragot.

That evening, after we had feasted on cabbage-soup and the piece of beef
which I had been too stuck-up to dandle on my knees, and clear brown
cider, the three of us sat outside the house, in the warm August
moonlight. Sinking into an infinitely far horizon stretched the fruitful
plain of France, cornland and pasture, and near us the stacked sheaves
of Paragot's corn stood quiet and pregnant symbols of the good earth's
plenty. Here and there dark patches of orchard dreamed in a haze.
Through one distant patch a farmhouse struck a muffled note of grey. On
the left the ribbon of road glistened white between the sentinel poplars
silhouetted against the sky. The hot smell of the earth filled the air
like spice. A thousand elfin sounds, the vibration of leaves, the tiny
crackling of cornstalks, the fairy whirr of ground insects, melted into
a companionable stillness.

Blanquette half dozed, her head against Paragot's shoulder, as she had
done that far-off evening of our return from Chambéry. The smoke from
his porcelain pipe curled upwards through the still air. I was near
enough to him on the other side, for him to lay his hand on my arm.

"My son," he whispered in English, "I was right when I said I had come
to the end of my journey. Eventually I am right in everything. I
prophesied that I would make little Augustus Smith a scholar and a
gentleman. _Te voilà._ I knew that my long pilgrimage would ultimately
lead me to the Inner Shrine. Isn't all this," he waved his pipe in a
circular gesture, "the Holy of Holies of the Real? Is there any illusion
in the unutterable poetry of the night? Is there anything false in this
promise of the fruitful earth? My God! Asticot, I am happy! When the
soul laughs tears come into the eyes. I have all that the heart of man
can desire--the love of this dear wife of mine--the child asleep within
doors--the printed wisdom of the world in a dozen tongues of men, caught
up hap-hazard in what I once, in a failing hour, thought was my
wildgoose chase after Truth--the pride in you, my little Asticot, the
son of my adoption--and the most overpowering sleepiness that ever sat
upon mortal eyelid."

He yawned. I protested. It was barely nine o'clock.

"It is bedtime," said Paragot. "We have to get up at five."

"Good Heavens, Master," said I, "why these unearthly hours?"

He laughed and quoted Candide.

"_Il faut cultiver notre jardin._"

"No," said the drowsy Blanquette at last understanding the conversation,
"we have to cut the rest of the corn."

"It's all the same, my dear," said Paragot tenderly. "We were talking
philosophy. Philosophy merely means the love of wisdom. And all that the
wisdom of all the ages can tell us, is summed up in the last words of
one of the wisest books that ever was written: 'We must cultivate our
garden.'"

But how my dear erratic master has managed for years and years to
cultivate the farm of La Haye and to bring up my godson in the fear of
the Lord and the practice of land surveying is a proof that the late Mr.
Matthew Arnold was hopelessly wrong in his categorical declaration that
miracles do not happen.


THE END



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          medium of a printed page, for never has a story of
          the sea and those "who go down in ships" been
          written by one more familiar with the scenes
          depicted.

          The one book of this gifted author which is best
          remembered, and which will be read with pleasure
          for many years to come, is "Captain Brand," who,
          as the author states on his title page, was a
          "pirate of eminence in the West Indies." As a sea
          story pure and simple, "Captain Brand" has never
          been excelled, and as a story of piratical life,
          told without the usual embellishments of blood and
          thunder, it has no equal.


=NICK OF THE WOODS.= A story of the Early Settlers of Kentucky. By
Robert Montgomery Bird. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J.
Watson Davis. Price, $1.00.

          This most popular novel and thrilling story of
          early frontier life in Kentucky was originally
          published in the year 1837. The novel, long out of
          print, had in its day a phenomenal sale, for its
          realistic presentation of Indian and frontier life
          in the early days of settlement in the South,
          narrated in the tale with all the art of a
          practiced writer. A very charming love romance
          runs through the story. This new and tasteful
          edition of "Nick of the Woods" will be certain to
          make many new admirers for this enchanting story
          from Dr. Bird's clever and versatile pen.


=GUY FAWKES.= A Romance of the Gunpowder Treason. By Wm. Harrison
Ainsworth. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by George Cruikshank.
Price, $1.00.

          The "Gunpowder Plot" was a modest attempt to blow
          up Parliament, the King and his Counsellors. James
          of Scotland, then King of England, was weak-minded
          and extravagant. He hit upon the efficient scheme
          of extorting money from the people by imposing
          taxes on the Catholics. In their natural
          resentment to this extortion, a handful of bold
          spirits concluded to overthrow the government.
          Finally the plotters were arrested, and the King
          put to torture Guy Fawkes and the other prisoners
          with royal vigor. A very intense love story runs
          through the entire romance.


=TICONDEROGA:= A Story of Early Frontier Life in the Mohawk Valley. By
G. P. R. James. Cloth, 12mo. with four page illustrations by J. Watson
Davis. Price, $1.00.

          The setting of the story is decidedly more
          picturesque than any ever evolved by Cooper: The
          frontier of New York State, where dwelt an English
          gentleman, driven from his native home by grief
          over the loss of his wife, with a son and
          daughter. Thither, brought by the exigencies of
          war, comes an English officer, who is readily
          recognized as that Lord Howe who met his death at
          Ticonderoga. As a most natural sequence, even amid
          the hostile demonstrations of both French and
          Indians, Lord Howe and the young girl find time to
          make most deliciously sweet love, and the son of
          the recluse has already lost his heart to the
          daughter of a great sachem, a dusky maiden whose
          warrior-father has surrounded her with all the
          comforts of a civilized life.

          The character of Captain Brooks, who voluntarily
          decides to sacrifice his own life in order to save
          the son of the Englishman, is not among the least
          of the attractions of this story, which holds the
          attention of the reader even to the last page. The
          tribal laws and folk lore of the different tribes
          of Indians known as the "Five Nations," with which
          the story is interspersed, shows that the author
          gave no small amount of study to the work in
          question, and nowhere else is it shown more
          plainly than by the skilful manner in which he has
          interwoven with his plot the "blood" law, which
          demands a life for a life, whether it be that of
          the murderer or one of his race.

          A more charming story of mingled love and
          adventure has never been written than
          "Ticonderoga."


=ROB OF THE BOWL:= A Story of the Early Days of Maryland. By John P.
Kennedy. Cloth, 12mo. with four page illustrations by J. Watson Davis.
Price, $1.00.

          It was while he was a member of Congress from
          Maryland that the noted statesman wrote this story
          regarding the early history of his native State,
          and while some critics are inclined to consider
          "Horse Shoe Robinson" as the best of his works, it
          is certain that "Rob of the Bowl" stands at the
          head of the list as a literary production and an
          authentic exposition of the manners and customs
          during Lord Baltimore's rule. The greater portion
          of the action takes place in St. Mary's--the
          original capital of the State.

          As a series of pictures of early colonial life.
          In Maryland, "Rob of the Bowl" has no equal, and
          the book, having been written by one who had
          exceptional facilities for gathering material
          concerning the individual members of the
          settlements in and about St. Mary's, is a most
          valuable addition to the history of the State.

          The story is full of splendid action, with a
          charming love story, and a plot that never loosens
          the grip of its interest to its last page.


=BY BERWEN BANKS.= By Allen Raine.

          It is a tender and beautiful romance of the
          idyllic. A charming picture of life in a Welsh
          seaside village. It is something of a prose-poem,
          true, tender and graceful.


=IN DEFIANCE OF THE KING.= A romance of the American Revolution. By
Chauncey C. Hotchkiss. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J. Watson
Davis. Price, $1.00.

          The story opens in the month of April, 1775, with
          the provincial troops hurrying to the defense of
          Lexington and Concord. Mr. Hotchkiss has etched in
          burning words a story of Yankee bravery and true
          love that thrills from beginning to end with the
          spirit of the Revolution. The heart beats quickly,
          and we feel ourselves taking a part in the
          exciting scenes described. You lay the book aside
          with the feeling that you have seen a gloriously
          true picture of the Revolution. His whole story is
          so absorbing that you will sit up far into the
          night to finish it. As a love romance it is
          charming.


=DARNLEY.= A Romance of the times of Henry VIII. and Cardinal Wolsey. By
G. P. R. James. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J. Watson Davis.
Price, $1.00.

          As a historical romance "Darnley" is a book that
          can be taken up pleasurably again and again, for
          there is about it that subtle charm which those
          who are strangers to the works of G. P. R. James
          have claimed was only to be imparted by Dumas.

          If there was nothing more about the work to
          attract especial attention, the account of the
          meeting of the kings on the historic "field of the
          cloth of gold" would entitle the story to the most
          favorable consideration of every reader.

          There is really but little pure romance in this
          story, for the author has taken care to imagine
          love passages only between those whom history has
          credited with having entertained the tender
          passion one for another, and he succeeds in making
          such lovers as all the world must love.


=WINDSOR CASTLE.= A Historical Romance of the Reign of Henry VIII.,
Catharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. By Wm. Harrison Ainsworth. Cloth,
12mo. with four illustrations by George Cruikshank. Price $1.00.

          "Windsor Castle" is the story of Henry VIII.,
          Catharine, and Anne Boleyn. "Bluff King Hal,"
          although a well-loved monarch, was none too good a
          one in many ways. Of all his selfishness and
          unwarrantable acts, none was more discreditable
          than his divorce from Catharine, and his marriage
          to the beautiful Anne Boleyn. The King's love was
          as brief as it was vehement. Jane Seymour, waiting
          maid on the Queen, attracted him, and Anne Boleyn
          was forced to the block to make room for her
          successor. This romance is one of extreme interest
          to all readers.


=HORSESHOE ROBINSON.= A tale of the Tory Ascendency in South Carolina in
1780. By John P. Kennedy. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J.
Watson Davis. Price, $1.00.

          Among the old favorites in the field of what is
          known as historical fiction, there are none which
          appeal to a larger number of Americans than
          Horseshoe Robinson, and this because it is the
          only story which depicts with fidelity to the
          facts the heroic efforts of the colonists in South
          Carolina to defend their homes against the brutal
          oppression of the British under such leaders as
          Cornwallis and Tarleton.

          The reader is charmed with the story of love which
          forms the thread of the tale, and then impressed
          with the wealth of detail concerning those times.
          The picture of the manifold sufferings of the
          people, is never overdrawn, but painted faithfully
          and honestly by one who spared neither time nor
          labor in his efforts to present in this charming
          love story all that price in blood and tears which
          the Carolinians paid as their share in the winning
          of the republic.

          Take it all in all, "Horseshoe Robinson" is a work
          which should be found on every book-shelf, not
          only because it is a most entertaining story, but
          because of the wealth of valuable information
          concerning the colonists which it contains. That
          it has been brought out once more, well
          illustrated, is something which will give pleasure
          to thousands who have long desired an opportunity
          to read the story again, and to the many who have
          tried vainly in these latter days to procure a
          copy that they might read it for the first time.


=THE PEARL OF ORR'S ISLAND.= A story of the Coast of Maine. By Harriet
Beecher Stowe. Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated. Price, $1.00.

          Written prior to 1862, the "Pearl of Orr's Island"
          is ever new; a book filled with delicate fancies,
          such as seemingly array themselves anew each time
          one reads them. One sees the "sea like an unbroken
          mirror all around the pine-girt, lonely shores of
          Orr's Island," and straightway comes "the heavy,
          hollow moan of the surf on the beach, like the
          wild angry howl of some savage animal."

          Who can read of the beginning of that sweet life,
          named Mara, which came into this world under the
          very shadow of the Death angel's wings, without
          having an intense desire to know how the premature
          bud blossomed? Again and again one lingers over
          the descriptions of the character of that baby boy
          Moses, who came through the tempest, amid the
          angry billows, pillowed on his dead mother's
          breast.

          There is no more faithful portrayal of New England
          life than that which Mrs. Stowe gives in "The
          Pearl of Orr's Island."


=RICHELIEU.= A tale of France in the reign of King Louis XIII. By G. P.
R. James. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J. Watson Davis.
Price, $1.00.

          In 1829 Mr. James published his first romance,
          "Richelieu," and was recognized at once as one of
          the masters of the craft.

          In this book he laid the story during those later
          days of the great cardinal's life, when his power
          was beginning to wane, but while it was yet
          sufficiently strong to permit now and then of
          volcanic outbursts which overwhelmed foes and
          carried friends to the topmost wave of prosperity.
          One of the most striking portions of the story is
          that of Cinq Mar's conspiracy; the method of
          conducting criminal cases, and the political
          trickery resorted to by royal favorites, affording
          a better insight into the statecraft of that day
          than can be had even by an exhaustive study of
          history. It is a powerful romance of love and
          diplomacy, and in point of thrilling and absorbing
          interest has never been excelled.


=A COLONIAL FREE-LANCE.= A story of American Colonial Times. By Chauncey
C. Hotchkiss. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J. Watson Davis.
Price, $1.00.

          A book that appeals to Americans as a vivid
          picture of Revolutionary scenes. The story is a
          strong one, a thrilling one. It causes the true
          American to flush with excitement, to devour
          chapter after chapter, until the eyes smart, and
          it fairly smokes with patriotism. The love story
          is a singularly charming idyl.


=THE TOWER OF LONDON.= A Historical Romance of the Times of Lady Jane
Grey and Mary Tudor. By Wm. Harrison Ainsworth. Cloth, 12mo. with four
illustrations by George Cruikshank. Price, $1.00.

          This romance of the "Tower of London" depicts the
          Tower as palace, prison and fortress, with many
          historical associations. The era is the middle of
          the sixteenth century.

          The story is divided into two parts, one dealing
          with Lady Jane Grey, and the other with Mary Tudor
          as Queen, introducing other notable characters of
          the era. Throughout the story holds the interest
          of the reader in the midst of intrigue and
          conspiracy, extending considerably over a half a
          century.


=IN DEFIANCE OF THE KING.= A Romance of the American Revolution. By
Chauncey C. Hotchkiss. Cloth, 12mo. with four illustrations by J. Watson
Davis. Price, $1.00.

          Mr. Hotchkiss has etched in burning words a story
          of Yankee bravery, and true love that thrills from
          beginning to end, with the spirit of the
          Revolution. The heart beats quickly, and we feel
          ourselves taking a part in the exciting scenes
          described. His whole story is so absorbing that
          you will sit up far into the night to finish it.
          As a love romance it is charming.


=GARTHOWEN.= A story of a Welsh Homestead. By Allen Raine. Cloth, 12mo.
with four illustrations by J. Watson Davis. Price, $1.00.

          "This is a little idyl of humble life and enduring
          love, laid bare before us, very real and pure,
          which in its telling shows us some strong points
          of Welsh character--the pride, the hasty temper,
          the quick dying out of wrath. . . . We call this
          a well-written story, interesting alike through
          its romance and its glimpses into another life
          than ours. A delightful and clever picture of Welsh
          village life. The result is excellent."--Detroit
          Free Press.


=MIFANWY.= The story of a Welsh Singer. By Allan Raine. Cloth, 12mo.
with four illustrations by J. Watson Davis. Price, $1.00.

          "This is a love story, simple, tender and pretty
          as one would care to read. The action throughout
          is brisk and pleasing; the characters, it is
          apparent at once, are as true to life as though
          the author had known them all personally. Simple
          in all its situations, the story is worked up in
          that touching and quaint strain which never grows
          wearisome, no matter how often the lights and
          shadows of love are introduced. It rings true, and
          does not tax the imagination."--Boston Herald.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. Varied hyphenation was retained
including to-morrow and tomorrow.

Page 84, "mattrass" changed to "mattress" (up on the mattress)

Page 141, "Berzelius" changed to "Berzélius" (His name is Berzélius)

Page 152, "quoedam" changed to "quædam" (falsa quædam esse)

Page 188, "exert" changed to "exerts" (English Parsonage exerts)

Page 205, "Vernueil" changed to "Verneuil" (Verneuil after an interval)

Page 220, "you" changed to "You" (made you. You)

Page 266, "Everbody" changed to "Everybody" (Everybody came to dance)

Page 305, "Afred" changed to "Alfred" (By Alfred Henry Lewis)

Page 308, word "to" inserted into text (be of interest to)





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