THE GUEST OF QUESNAY
BY BOOTH TARKINGTON
NEW YORK 1915
TO OVID BUTLER JAMESON
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Several pairs of brighter eyes followed my companion ...... Frontispiece
"I haven't had my life. It's gone!"
"You and Miss Ward are old and dear friends, aren't you?"
"Embrasse moi, Larrabi! Embrasse moi!" she cried
There are old Parisians who will tell you pompously that the boulevards, like the political cafes, have ceased to exist, but this means only that the boulevards no longer gossip of Louis Napoleon, the Return of the Bourbons, or of General Boulanger, for these highways are always too busily stirring with present movements not to be forgetful of their yesterdays. In the shade of the buildings and awnings, the loungers, the lookers-on in Paris, the audience of the boulevard, sit at little tables, sipping coffee from long glasses, drinking absinthe or bright- coloured sirops, and gazing over the heads of throngs afoot at others borne along through the sunshine of the street in carriages, in cabs, in glittering automobiles, or high on the tops of omnibuses.
From all the continents the multitudes come to join in that procession: Americans, tagged with race-cards and intending hilarious disturbances; puzzled Americans, worn with guide-book plodding; Chinese princes in silk; queer Antillean dandies of swarthy origin and fortune; ruddy English, thinking of nothing; pallid English, with upper teeth bared and eyes hungrily searching for sign-boards of tea-rooms; over-Europeanised Japanese, unpleasantly immaculate; burnoosed sheiks from the desert, and red-fezzed Semitic peddlers; Italian nobles in English tweeds; Soudanese negroes swaggering in frock coats; slim Spaniards, squat Turks, travellers, idlers, exiles, fugitives, sportsmen—all the tribes and kinds of men are tributary here to the Parisian stream which, on a fair day in spring, already overflows the banks with its own much-mingled waters. Soberly clad burgesses, bearded, amiable, and in no fatal hurry; well-kept men of the world swirling by in miraculous limousines; legless cripples flopping on hands and leather pads; thin-whiskered students in velveteen; walrus-moustached veterans in broadcloth; keen-faced old prelates; shabby young priests; cavalrymen in casque and cuirass; workingmen turned horse and harnessed to carts; sidewalk jesters, itinerant vendors of questionable wares; shady loafers dressed to resemble gold-showering America; motor-cyclists in leather; hairy musicians, blue gendarmes, baggy red zouaves; purple-faced, glazed- hatted, scarlet-waistcoated, cigarette-smoking cabmen, calling one another "onions," "camels," and names even more terrible. Women prevalent over all the concourse; fair women, dark women, pretty women, gilded women, haughty women, indifferent women, friendly women, merry women. Fine women in fine clothes; rich women in fine clothes; poor women in fine clothes. Worldly old women, reclining befurred in electric landaulettes; wordy old women hoydenishly trundling carts full of flowers. Wonderful automobile women quick-glimpsed, in multiple veils of white and brown and sea-green. Women in rags and tags, and women draped, coifed, and befrilled in the delirium of maddened poet-milliners and the hasheesh dreams of ladies' tailors.
About the procession, as it moves interminably along the boulevard, a blue haze of fine dust and burnt gasoline rises into the sunshine like the haze over the passages to an amphitheatre toward which a crowd is trampling; and through this the multitudes seem to go as actors passing to their cues. Your place at one of the little tables upon the sidewalk is that of a wayside spectator: and as the performers go by, in some measure acting or looking their parts already, as if in preparation, you guess the roles they play, and name them comedians, tragedians, buffoons, saints, beauties, sots, knaves, gladiators, acrobats, dancers; for all of these are there, and you distinguish the principles from the unnumbered supernumeraries pressing forward to the entrances. So, if you sit at the little tables often enough—that is, if you become an amateur boulevardier—you begin to recognise the transient stars of the pageant, those to whom the boulevard allows a dubious and fugitive role of celebrity, and whom it greets with a slight flutter: the turning of heads, a murmur of comment, and the incredulous boulevard smile, which seems to say: "You see? Madame and monsieur passing there—evidently they think we still believe in them!"
This flutter heralded and followed the passing of a white touring-car with the procession one afternoon, just before the Grand Prix, though it needed no boulevard celebrity to make the man who lolled in the tonneau conspicuous. Simply for THAT, notoriety was superfluous; so were the remarkable size and power of his car; so was the elaborate touring- costume of flannels and pongee he wore; so was even the enamelled presence of the dancer who sat beside him. His face would have done it without accessories.
My old friend, George Ward, and I had met for our aperitif at the Terrace Larue, by the Madeleine, when the white automobile came snaking its way craftily through the traffic. Turning in to pass a victoria on the wrong side, it was forced down to a snail's pace near the curb and not far from our table, where it paused, checked by a blockade at the next corner. I heard Ward utter a half-suppressed guttural of what I took to be amazement, and I did not wonder.
The face of the man in the tonneau detached him to the spectator's gaze and singled him out of the concourse with an effect almost ludicrous in its incongruity. The hair was dark, lustrous and thick, the forehead broad and finely modelled, and certain other ruinous vestiges of youth and good looks remained; but whatever the features might once have shown of honour, worth, or kindly semblance had disappeared beyond all tracing in a blurred distortion. The lids of one eye were discoloured and swollen almost together; other traces of a recent battering were not lacking, nor was cosmetic evidence of a heroic struggle, on the part of some valet of infinite pains, to efface them. The nose lost outline in the discolorations of the puffed cheeks; the chin, tufted with a small imperial, trembled beneath a sagging, gray lip. And that this bruised and dissipated mask should suffer the final grotesque touch, it was decorated with the moustache of a coquettish marquis, the ends waxed and exquisitely elevated.
The figure was fat, but loose and sprawling, seemingly without the will to hold itself together; in truth the man appeared to be almost in a semi-stupor, and, contrasted with this powdered Silenus, even the woman beside him gained something of human dignity. At least, she was thoroughly alive, bold, predatory, and in spite of the gross embon-point that threatened her, still savagely graceful. A purple veil, dotted with gold, floated about her hat, from which green-dyed ostrich plumes cascaded down across a cheek enamelled dead white. Her hair was plastered in blue-black waves, parted low on the forehead; her lips were splashed a startling carmine, the eyelids painted blue; and, from between lashes gummed into little spikes of blacking, she favoured her companion with a glance of carelessly simulated tenderness,—a look all too vividly suggesting the ghastly calculations of a cook wheedling a chicken nearer the kitchen door. But I felt no great pity for the victim.
"Who is it?" I asked, staring at the man in the automobile and not turning toward Ward.
"That is Mariana—'la bella Mariana la Mursiana,'" George answered; "— one of those women who come to Paris from the tropics to form themselves on the legend of the one great famous and infamous Spanish dancer who died a long while ago. Mariana did very well for a time. I've heard that the revolutionary societies intend striking medals in her honour: she's done worse things to royalty than all the anarchists in Europe! But her great days are over: she's getting old; that type goes to pieces quickly, once it begins to slump, and it won't be long before she'll be horribly fat, though she's still a graceful dancer. She danced at the Folie Rouge last week."
"Thank you, George," I said gratefully. "I hope you'll point out the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower to me some day. I didn't mean Mariana."
"What did you mean?"
What I had meant was so obvious that I turned to my friend in surprise. He was nervously tapping his chin with the handle of his cane and staring at the white automobile with very grim interest.
"I meant the man with her," I said.
"Oh!" He laughed sourly. "That carrion?"
"You seem to be an acquaintance."
"Everybody on the boulevard knows who he is," said Ward curtly, paused, and laughed again with very little mirth. "So do you," he continued; "and as for my acquaintance with him—yes, I had once the distinction of being his rival in a small way, a way so small, in fact, that it ended in his becoming a connection of mine by marriage. He's Larrabee Harman."
That was a name somewhat familiar to readers of American newspapers even before its bearer was fairly out of college. The publicity it then attained (partly due to young Harman's conspicuous wealth) attached to some youthful exploits not without a certain wild humour. But frolic degenerated into brawl and debauch: what had been scrapes for the boy became scandals for the man; and he gathered a more and more unsavoury reputation until its like was not to be found outside a penitentiary. The crux of his career in his own country was reached during a midnight quarrel in Chicago when he shot a negro gambler. After that, the negro having recovered and the matter being somehow arranged so that the prosecution was dropped, Harman's wife left him, and the papers recorded her application for a divorce. She was George Ward's second cousin, the daughter of a Baltimore clergyman; a belle in a season and town of belles, and a delightful, headstrong creature, from all accounts. She had made a runaway match of it with Harman three years before, their affair having been earnestly opposed by all her relatives—especially by poor George, who came over to Paris just after the wedding in a miserable frame of mind.
The Chicago exploit was by no means the end of Harman's notoriety. Evading an effort (on the part of an aunt, I believe) to get him locked up safely in a "sanitarium," he began a trip round the world with an orgy which continued from San Francisco to Bangkok, where, in the company of some congenial fellow travellers, he interfered in a native ceremonial with the result that one of his companions was drowned. Proceeding, he was reported to be in serious trouble at Constantinople, the result of an inquisitiveness little appreciated by Orientals. The State Department, bestirring itself, saved him from a very real peril, and he continued his journey. In Rome he was rescued with difficulty from a street mob that unreasonably refused to accept intoxication as an excuse for his riding down a child on his way to the hunt. Later, during the winter just past, we had been hearing from Monte Carlo of his disastrous plunges at that most imbecile of all games, roulette.
Every event, no matter how trifling, in this man's pitiful career had been recorded in the American newspapers with an elaboration which, for my part, I found infuriatingly tiresome. I have lived in Paris so long that I am afraid to go home: I have too little to show for my years of pottering with paint and canvas, and I have grown timid about all the changes that have crept in at home. I do not know the "new men," I do not know how they would use me, and fear they might make no place for me; and so I fit myself more closely into the little grooves I have worn for myself, and resign myself to stay. But I am no "expatriate." I know there is a feeling at home against us who remain over here to do our work, but in most instances it is a prejudice which springs from a misunderstanding. I think the quality of patriotism in those of us who "didn't go home in time" is almost pathetically deep and real, and, like many another oldish fellow in my position, I try to keep as close to things at home as I can. All of my old friends gradually ceased to write to me, but I still take three home newspapers, trying to follow the people I knew and the things that happen; and the ubiquity of so worthless a creature as Larrabee Harman in the columns I dredged for real news had long been a point of irritation to this present exile. Not only that: he had usurped space in the Continental papers, and of late my favourite Parisian journal had served him to me with my morning coffee, only hinting his name, but offering him with that gracious satire characteristic of the Gallic journalist writing of anything American. And so this grotesque wreck of a man was well known to the boulevard—one of its sights. That was to be perceived by the flutter he caused, by the turning of heads in his direction, and the low laughter of the people at the little tables. Three or four in the rear ranks had risen to their feet to get a better look at him and his companion.
Some one behind us chuckled aloud. "They say Mariana beats him."
The dancer was aware of the flutter, and called Harman's attention to it with a touch upon his arm and a laugh and a nod of her violent plumage.
At that he seemed to rouse himself somewhat: his head rolled heavily over upon his shoulder, the lids lifted a little from the red-shot eyes, showing a strange pride when his gaze fell upon the many staring faces.
Then, as the procession moved again and the white automobile with it, the sottish mouth widened in a smile of dull and cynical contempt: the look of a half-poisoned Augustan borne down through the crowds from the Palatine after supping with Caligula.
Ward pulled my sleeve.
"Come," he said, "let us go over to the Luxembourg gardens where the air is cleaner."
Ward is a portrait-painter, and in the matter of vogue there seem to be no pinnacles left for him to surmount. I think he has painted most of the very rich women of fashion who have come to Paris of late years, and he has become so prosperous, has such a polite celebrity, and his opinions upon art are so conclusively quoted, that the friendship of some of us who started with him has been dangerously strained.
He lives a well-ordered life; he has always led that kind of life. Even in his student days when I first knew him, I do not remember an occasion upon which the principal of a New England high-school would have criticised his conduct. And yet I never heard anyone call him a prig; and, so far as I know, no one was ever so stupid as to think him one. He was a quiet, good-looking, well-dressed boy, and he matured into a somewhat reserved, well-poised man, of impressive distinction in appearance and manner. He has always been well tended and cared for by women; in his student days his mother lived with him; his sister, Miss Elizabeth, looks after him now. She came with him when he returned to Paris after his disappointment in the unfortunate Harman affair, and she took charge of all his business—as well as his social—arrangements (she has been accused of a theory that the two things may be happily combined), making him lease a house in an expensively modish quarter near the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. Miss Elizabeth is an instinctively fashionable woman, practical withal, and to her mind success should be not only respectable but "smart." She does not speak of the "right bank" and the "left bank" of the Seine; she calls them the "right bank" and the "wrong bank." And yet, though she removed George (her word is "rescued") from many of his old associations with Montparnasse, she warmly encouraged my friendship with him—yea, in spite of my living so deep in the wrong bank that the first time he brought her to my studio, she declared she hadn't seen anything so like Bring-the-child-to-the- old-hag's-cellar-at-midnight since her childhood. She is a handsome woman, large, and of a fine, high colour; her manner is gaily dictatorial, and she and I got along very well together.
Probably she appreciated my going to some pains with the clothes I wore when I went to their house. My visits there were infrequent, not because I had any fear of wearing out a welcome, but on account of Miss Elizabeth's "day," when I could see nothing of George for the crowd of lionising women and time-wasters about him. Her "day" was a dread of mine; I could seldom remember which day it was, and when I did she had a way of shifting it so that I was fatally sure to run into it—to my misery, for, beginning with those primordial indignities suffered in youth, when I was scrubbed with a handkerchief outside the parlour door as a preliminary to polite usages, my childhood's, manhood's prayer has been: From all such days, Good Lord, deliver me!
It was George's habit to come much oftener to see me. He always really liked the sort of society his sister had brought about him; but now and then there were intervals when it wore on him a little, I think. Sometimes he came for me in his automobile and we would make a mild excursion to breakfast in the country; and that is what happened one morning about three weeks after the day when we had sought pure air in the Luxembourg gardens.
We drove out through the Bois and by Suresnes, striking into a roundabout road to Versailles beyond St. Cloud. It was June, a dustless and balmy noon, the air thinly gilded by a faint haze, and I know few things pleasanter than that road on a fair day of the early summer and no sweeter way to course it than in an open car; though I must not be giving myself out for a "motorist"—I have not even the right cap. I am usually nervous in big machines, too; but Ward has never caught the speed mania and holds a strange power over his chauffeur; so we rolled along peacefully, not madly, and smoked (like the car) in hasteless content.
"After all," said George, with a placid wave of the hand, "I sometimes wish that the landscape had called me. You outdoor men have all the health and pleasure of living in the open, and as for the work—oh! you fellows think you work, but you don't know what it means."
"No?" I said, and smiled as I always meanly do when George "talks art." He was silent for a few moments and then said irritably,
"Well, at least you can't deny that the academic crowd can DRAW!"
Never having denied it, though he had challenged me in the same way perhaps a thousand times, I refused to deny it now; whereupon he returned to his theme: "Landscape is about as simple as a stage fight; two up, two down, cross and repeat. Take that ahead of us. Could anything be simpler to paint?"
He indicated the white road running before us between open fields to a curve, where it descended to pass beneath an old stone culvert. Beyond, stood a thick grove with a clear sky flickering among the branches. An old peasant woman was pushing a heavy cart round the curve, a scarlet handkerchief knotted about her head.
"You think it's easy?" I asked.
"Easy! Two hours ought to do it as well as it could be done—at least, the way you fellows do it!" He clenched his fingers as if upon the handle of a house-painter's brush. "Slap, dash—there's your road." He paddled the air with the imaginary brush as though painting the side of a barn. "Swish, swash—there go your fields and your stone bridge. Fit! Speck! And there's your old woman, her red handkerchief, and what your dealer will probably call 'the human interest,' all complete. Squirt the edges of your foliage in with a blow-pipe. Throw a cup of tea over the whole, and there's your haze. Call it 'The Golden Road,' or 'The Bath of Sunlight,' or 'Quiet Noon.' Then you'll probably get a criticism beginning, 'Few indeed have more intangibly detained upon canvas so poetic a quality of sentiment as this sterling landscapist, who in Number 136 has most ethereally expressed the profound silence of evening on an English moor. The solemn hush, the brooding quiet, the homeward ploughman—'"
He was interrupted by an outrageous uproar, the grisly scream of a siren and the cannonade of a powerful exhaust, as a great white touring-car swung round us from behind at a speed that sickened me to see, and, snorting thunder, passed us "as if we had been standing still."
It hurtled like a comet down the curve and we were instantly choking in its swirling tail of dust.
"Seventy miles an hour!" gasped George, swabbing at his eyes. "Those are the fellows that get into the pa—Oh, Lord! THERE they go!"
Swinging out to pass us and then sweeping in upon the reverse curve to clear the narrow arch of the culvert were too much for the white car; and through the dust we saw it rock dangerously. In the middle of the road, ten feet from the culvert, the old woman struggled frantically to get her cart out of the way. The howl of the siren frightened her perhaps, for she lost her head and went to the wrong side. Then the shriek of the machine drowned the human scream as the automobile struck.
The shock of contact was muffled. But the mass of machinery hoisted itself in the air as if it had a life of its own and had been stung into sudden madness. It was horrible to see, and so grotesque that a long- forgotten memory of my boyhood leaped instantaneously into my mind, a recollection of the evolutions performed by a Newfoundland dog that rooted under a board walk and found a hive of wild bees.
The great machine left the road for the fields on the right, reared, fell, leaped against the stone side of the culvert, apparently trying to climb it, stood straight on end, whirled backward in a half-somersault, crashed over on its side, flashed with flame and explosion, and lay hidden under a cloud of dust and smoke.
Ward's driver slammed down his accelerator, sent us spinning round the curve, and the next moment, throwing on his brakes, halted sharply at the culvert.
The fabric of the road was so torn and distorted one might have thought a steam dredge had begun work there, but the fragments of wreckage were oddly isolated and inconspicuous. The peasant's cart, tossed into a clump of weeds, rested on its side, the spokes of a rimless wheel slowly revolving on the hub uppermost. Some tools were strewn in a semi- circular trail in the dust; a pair of smashed goggles crunched beneath my foot as I sprang out of Ward's car, and a big brass lamp had fallen in the middle of the road, crumpled like waste paper. Beside it lay a gold rouge box.
The old woman had somehow saved herself—or perhaps her saint had helped her—for she was sitting in the grass by the roadside, wailing hysterically and quite unhurt. The body of a man lay in a heap beneath the stone archway, and from his clothes I guessed that he had been the driver of the white car. I say "had been" because there were reasons for needing no second glance to comprehend that the man was dead. Nevertheless, I knelt beside him and placed my hand upon his breast to see if his heart still beat. Afterward I concluded that I did this because I had seen it done upon the stage, or had read of it in stories; and even at the time I realised that it was a silly thing for me to be doing.
Ward, meanwhile, proved more practical. He was dragging a woman out of the suffocating smoke and dust that shrouded the wreck, and after a moment I went to help him carry her into the fresh air, where George put his coat under her head. Her hat had been forced forward over her face and held there by the twisting of a system of veils she wore; and we had some difficulty in unravelling this; but she was very much alive, as a series of muffled imprecations testified, leading us to conclude that her sufferings were more profoundly of rage than of pain. Finally she pushed our hands angrily aside and completed the untanglement herself, revealing the scratched and smeared face of Mariana, the dancer.
"Cornichon! Chameau! Fond du bain!" she gasped, tears of anger starting from her eyes. She tried to rise before we could help her, but dropped back with a scream.
"Oh, the pain!" she cried. "That imbecile! If he has let me break my leg! A pretty dancer I should be! I hope he is killed."
One of the singularities of motoring on the main-travelled roads near Paris is the prevalence of cars containing physicians and surgeons. Whether it be testimony to the opportunism, to the sporting proclivities, or to the prosperity of gentlemen of those professions, I do not know, but it is a fact that I have never heard of an accident (and in the season there is an accident every day) on one of these roads when a doctor in an automobile was not almost immediately a chance arrival, and fortunately our case offered no exception to this rule. Another automobile had already come up and the occupants were hastily alighting. Ward shouted to the foremost to go for a doctor.
"I am a doctor," the man answered, advancing and kneeling quickly by the dancer. "And you—you may be of help yonder."
We turned toward the ruined car where Ward's driver was shouting for us.
"What is it?" called Ward as we ran toward him.
"Monsieur," he replied, "there is some one under the tonneau here!"
The smoke had cleared a little, though a rivulet of burning gasoline ran from the wreck to a pool of flame it was feeding in the road. The front cushions and woodwork had caught fire and a couple of labourers, panting with the run across the fields, were vainly belabouring the flames with brushwood. From beneath the overturned tonneau projected the lower part of a man's leg, clad in a brown puttee and a russet shoe. Ward's driver had brought his tools; had jacked up the car as high as possible; but was still unable to release the imprisoned body.
"I have seized that foot and pulled with all my strength," he said, "and I cannot make him move one centimetre. It is necessary that as many people as possible lay hold of the car on the side away from the fire and all lift together. Yes," he added, "and very soon!"
Some carters had come from the road and one of them lay full length on the ground peering beneath the wreck. "It is the head of monsieur," explained this one; "it is the head of monsieur which is fastened under there."
"Eh, but you are wiser than Clemenceau!" said the chauffeur. "Get up, my ancient, and you there, with the brushwood, let the fire go for a moment and help, when I say the word. And you, monsieur," he turned to Ward, "if you please, will you pull with me upon the ankle here at the right moment?"
The carters, the labourers, the men from the other automobile, and I laid hold of the car together.
"Now, then, messieurs, LIFT!"
Stifled with the gasoline smoke, we obeyed. One or two hands were scorched and our eyes smarted blindingly, but we gave a mighty heave, and felt the car rising.
"Well done!" cried the chauffeur. "Well done! But a little more! The smallest fraction—HA! It is finished, messieurs!"
We staggered back, coughing and wiping our eyes. For a minute or two I could not see at all, and was busy with a handkerchief.
Ward laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Do you know who it is?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," I answered.
When I could see again, I found that I was looking almost straight down into the upturned face of Larrabee Harman, and I cannot better express what this man had come to be, and what the degradation of his life had written upon him, than by saying that the dreadful thing I looked upon now was no more horrible a sight than the face I had seen, fresh from the valet and smiling in ugly pride at the starers, as he passed the terrace of Larue on the day before the Grand Prix.
We helped to carry him to the doctor's car, and to lift the dancer into Ward's, and to get both of them out again at the hospital at Versailles, where they were taken. Then, with no need to ask each other if we should abandon our plan to breakfast in the country, we turned toward Paris, and rolled along almost to the barriers in silence.
"Did it seem to you," said George finally, "that a man so frightfully injured could have any chance of getting well?"
"No," I answered. "I thought he was dying as we carried him into the hospital."
"So did I. The top of his head seemed all crushed in—Whew!" He broke off, shivering, and wiped his brow. After a pause he added thoughtfully, "It will be a great thing for Louise."
Louise was the name of his second cousin, the girl who had done battle with all her family and then run away from them to be Larrabee Harman's wife. Remembering the stir that her application for divorce had made, I did not understand how Harman's death could benefit her, unless George had some reason to believe that he had made a will in her favour. However, the remark had been made more to himself than to me and I did not respond.
The morning papers flared once more with the name of Larrabee Harman, and we read that there was "no hope of his surviving." Ironic phrase! There was not a soul on earth that day who could have hoped for his recovery, or who—for his sake—cared two straws whether he lived or died. And the dancer had been right; one of her legs was badly broken: she would never dance again.
Evening papers reported that Harman was "lingering." He was lingering the next day. He was lingering the next week, and the end of a month saw him still "lingering." Then I went down to Capri, where—for he had been after all the merest episode to me—I was pleased to forget all about him.
A great many people keep their friends in mind by writing to them, but more do not; and Ward and I belong to the majority. After my departure from Paris I had but one missive from him, a short note, written at the request of his sister, asking me to be on the lookout for Italian earrings, to add to her collection of old jewels. So, from time to time, I sent her what I could find about Capri or in Naples, and she responded with neat little letters of acknowledgment.
Two years I stayed on Capri, eating the lotus which grows on that happy island, and painting very little—only enough, indeed, to be remembered at the Salon and not so much as knowing how kindly or unkindly they hung my pictures there. But even on Capri, people sometimes hear the call of Paris and wish to be in that unending movement: to hear the multitudinous rumble, to watch the procession from a cafe terrace and to dine at Foyot's. So there came at last a fine day when I, knowing that the horse-chestnuts were in bloom along the Champs Elysees, threw my rope-soled shoes to a beggar, packed a rusty trunk, and was off for the banks of the Seine.
My arrival—just the drive from the Gare de Lyon to my studio—was like the shock of surf on a bather's breast.
The stir and life, the cheerful energy of the streets, put stir and life and cheerful energy into me. I felt the itch to work again, to be at it, at it in earnest—to lose no hour of daylight, and to paint better than I had painted!
Paris having given me this impetus, I dared not tempt her further, nor allow the edge of my eagerness time to blunt; therefore, at the end of a fortnight, I went over into Normandy and deposited that rusty trunk of mine in a corner of the summer pavilion in the courtyard of Madame Brossard's inn, Les Trois Pigeons, in a woodland neighborhood that is there. Here I had painted through a prolific summer of my youth, and I was glad to find—as I had hoped—nothing changed; for the place was dear to me. Madame Brossard (dark, thin, demure as of yore, a fine- looking woman with a fine manner and much the flavour of old Norman portraits) gave me a pleasant welcome, remembering me readily but without surprise, while Amedee, the antique servitor, cackled over me and was as proud of my advent as if I had been a new egg and he had laid me. The simile is grotesque; but Amedee is the most henlike waiter in France.
He is a white-haired, fat old fellow, always well-shaved; as neat as a billiard-ball. In the daytime, when he is partly porter, he wears a black tie, a gray waistcoat broadly striped with scarlet, and, from waist to feet, a white apron like a skirt, and so competently encircling that his trousers are of mere conventionality and no real necessity; but after six o'clock (becoming altogether a maitre d'hotel) he is clad as any other formal gentleman. At all times he wears a fresh table-cloth over his arm, keeping an exaggerated pile of them ready at hand on a ledge in one of the little bowers of the courtyard, so that he may never be shamed by getting caught without one.
His conception of life is that all worthy persons were created as receptacles for food and drink; and five minutes after my arrival he had me seated (in spite of some meek protests) in a wicker chair with a pitcher of the right Three Pigeons cider on the table before me, while he subtly dictated what manner of dinner I should eat. For this interval Amedee's exuberance was sobered and his badinage dismissed as being mere garniture, the questions now before us concerning grave and inward matters. His suggestions were deferential but insistent; his manner was that of a prime minister who goes through the form of convincing the sovereign. He greeted each of his own decisions with a very loud "Bien!" as if startled by the brilliancy of my selections, and, the menu being concluded, exploded a whole volley of "Biens" and set off violently to instruct old Gaston, the cook.
That is Amedee's way; he always starts violently for anywhere he means to go. He is a little lame and his progress more or less sidelong, but if you call him, or new guests arrive at the inn, or he receives an order from Madame Brossard, he gives the effect of running by a sudden movement of the whole body like that of a man ABOUT to run, and moves off using the gestures of a man who IS running; after which he proceeds to his destination at an exquisite leisure. Remembering this old habit of his, it was with joy that I noted his headlong departure. Some ten feet of his progress accomplished, he halted (for no purpose but to scratch his head the more luxuriously); next, strayed from the path to contemplate a rose-bush, and, selecting a leaf with careful deliberation, placed it in his mouth and continued meditatively upon his way to the kitchen.
I chuckled within me; it was good to be back at Madame Brossard's.
The courtyard was more a garden; bright with rows of flowers in formal little beds and blossoming up from big green tubs, from red jars, and also from two brightly painted wheel-barrows. A long arbour offered a shelter of vines for those who might choose to dine, breakfast, or lounge beneath, and, here and there among the shrubberies, you might come upon a latticed bower, thatched with straw. My own pavilion (half bedroom, half studio) was set in the midst of all and had a small porch of its own with a rich curtain of climbing honeysuckle for a screen from the rest of the courtyard.
The inn itself is gray with age, the roof sagging pleasantly here and there; and an old wooden gallery runs the length of each wing, the guest-chambers of the upper story opening upon it like the deck-rooms of a steamer, with boxes of tulips and hyacinths along the gallery railings and window ledges for the gayest of border-lines.
Beyond the great open archway, which gives entrance to the courtyard, lies the quiet country road; passing this, my eyes followed the wide sweep of poppy-sprinkled fields to a line of low green hills; and there was the edge of the forest sheltering those woodland interiors which I had long ago tried to paint, and where I should be at work to-morrow.
In the course of time, and well within the bright twilight, Amedee spread the crisp white cloth and served me at a table on my pavilion porch. He feigned anxiety lest I should find certain dishes (those which he knew were most delectable) not to my taste, but was obviously so distended with fatuous pride over the whole meal that it became a temptation to denounce at least some trifling sauce or garnishment; nevertheless, so much mendacity proved beyond me and I spared him and my own conscience. This puffed-uppedness of his was to be observed only in his expression of manner, for during the consumption of food it was his worthy custom to practise a ceremonious, nay, a reverential, hush, and he never offered (or approved) conversation until he had prepared the salad. That accomplished, however, and the water bubbling in the coffee machine, he readily favoured me with a discourse on the decline in glory of Les Trois Pigeons.
"Monsieur, it is the automobiles; they have done it. Formerly, as when monsieur was here, the painters came from Paris. They would come in the spring and would stay until the autumn rains. What busy times and what drolleries! Ah, it was gay in those days! Monsieur remembers well. Ha, Ha! But now, I think, the automobiles have frightened away the painters; at least they do not come any more. And the automobiles themselves; they come sometimes for lunch, a few, but they love better the seashore, and we are just close enough to be too far away. Those automobiles, they love the big new hotels and the casinos with roulette. They eat hastily, gulp down a liqueur, and pouf! off they rush for Trouville, for Houlgate—for heaven knows where! And even the automobiles do not come so frequently as they did. Our road used to be the best from Lisieux to Beuzeval, but now the maps recommend another. They pass us by, and yet yonder—only a few kilometres—is the coast with its thousands. We are near the world but out of it, monsieur."
He poured my coffee; dropped a lump of sugar from the tongs with a benevolent gesture—"One lump: always the same. Monsieur sees that I remember well, ha?"—and the twilight having fallen, he lit two orange- shaded candles and my cigar with the same match. The night was so quiet that the candle-lights burned as steadily as flames in a globe, yet the air was spiced with a cool fragrance, and through the honeysuckle leaves above me I saw, as I leaned back in my wicker chair, a glimmer of kindly stars.
"Very comfortably out of the world, Amedee," I said. "It seems to me I have it all to myself."
"Unhappily, yes!" he exclaimed; then excused himself, chuckling. "I should have said that we should be happier if we had many like monsieur. But it is early in the season to despair. Then, too, our best suite is already engaged."
"Two men of science who arrive next week. One is a great man. Madame Brossard is pleased that he is coming to Les Trois Pigeons, but I tell her it is only natural. He comes now for the first time because he likes the quiet, but he will come again, like monsieur, because he has been here before. That is what I always say: 'Any one who has been here must come again.' The problem is only to get them to come the first time. Truly!"
"Who is the great man, Amedee?"
"Ah! A distinguished professor of science. Truly."
"I do not know. But he is a member of the Institute. Monsieur must have heard of that great Professor Keredec?"
"The name is known. Who is the other?"
"A friend of his. I do not know. All the upper floor of the east wing they have taken—the Grande Suite—those two and their valet-de-chambre. That is truly the way in modern times—the philosophers are rich men."
"Yes," I sighed. "Only the painters are poor nowadays."
"Ha, ha, monsieur!" Amedee laughed cunningly.
"It was always easy to see that monsieur only amuses himself with his painting."
"Thank you, Amedee," I responded. "I have amused other people with it too, I fear."
"Oh, without doubt!" he agreed graciously, as he folded the cloth. I have always tried to believe that it was not so much my pictures as the fact that I paid my bills the day they were presented which convinced everybody about Les Trois Pigeons that I was an amateur. But I never became happily enough settled in this opinion to risk pressing an investigation; and it was a relief that Amedee changed the subject.
"Monsieur remembers the Chateau de Quesnay—at the crest of the hill on the road north of Dives?"
"It is occupied this season by some rich Americans."
"How do you know they are rich?"
"Dieu de Dieu!" The old fellow appealed to heaven. "But they are Americans!"
"And therefore millionaires. Perfectly, Amedee."
"Perfectly, monsieur. Perhaps monsieur knows them."
"Yes, I know them."
"Truly!" He affected dejection. "And poor Madame Brossard thought monsieur had returned to our old hotel because he liked it, and remembered our wine of Beaune and the good beds and old Gaston's cooking!"
"Do not weep, Amedee," I said. "I have come to paint; not because I know the people who have taken Quesnay." And I added: "I may not see them at all."
In truth I thought that very probable. Miss Elizabeth had mentioned in one of her notes that Ward had leased Quesnay, but I had not sought quarters at Les Trois Pigeons because it stood within walking distance of the chateau. In my industrious frame of mind that circumstance seemed almost a drawback. Miss Elizabeth, ever hospitable to those whom she noticed at all, would be doubly so in the country, as people always are; and I wanted all my time to myself—no very selfish wish since my time was not conceivably of value to any one else. I thought it wise to leave any encounter with the lady to chance, and as the by-paths of the country-side were many and intricate, I intended, without ungallantry, to render the chance remote. George himself had just sailed on a business trip to America, as I knew from her last missive; and until his return, I should put in all my time at painting and nothing else, though I liked his sister, as I have said, and thought of her—often.
Amedee doubted my sincerity, however, for he laughed incredulously.
"Eh, well, monsieur enjoys saying it!"
"Certainly. It is a pleasure to say what one means."
"But monsieur could not mean it. Monsieur will call at the chateau in the morning"—the complacent varlet prophesied—"as early as it will be polite. I am sure of that. Monsieur is not at all an old man; no, not yet! Even if he were, aha! no one could possess the friendship of that wonderful Madame d'Armand and remain away from the chateau."
"Madame d'Armand?" I said. "That is not the name. You mean Mademoiselle Ward."
"No, no!" He shook his head and his fat cheeks bulged with a smile which I believe he intended to express a respectful roguishness. "Mademoiselle Ward" (he pronounced it "Ware") "is magnificent; every one must fly to obey when she opens her mouth. If she did not like the ocean there below the chateau, the ocean would have to move! It needs only a glance to perceive that Mademoiselle Ward is a great lady—but MADAME D'ARMAND! AHA!" He rolled his round eyes to an effect of unspeakable admiration, and with a gesture indicated that he would have kissed his hand to the stars, had that been properly reverential to Madame d'Armand. "But monsieur knows very well for himself!"
"Monsieur knows that you are very confusing—even for a maitre d'hotel. We were speaking of the present chatelaine of Quesnay, Mademoiselle Ward. I have never heard of Madame d'Armand."
"Monsieur is serious?"
"Truly!" I answered, making bold to quote his shibboleth.
"Then monsieur has truly much to live for. Truly!" he chuckled openly, convinced that he had obtained a marked advantage in a conflict of wits, shaking his big head from side to side with an exasperating air of knowingness. "Ah, truly! When that lady drives by, some day, in the carriage from the chateau—eh? Then monsieur will see how much he has to live for. Truly, truly, truly!"
He had cleared the table, and now, with a final explosion of the word which gave him such immoderate satisfaction, he lifted the tray and made one of his precipitate departures.
"Amedee," I said, as he slackened down to his sidelong leisure.
"Who is Madame d'Armand?"
"A guest of Mademoiselle Ward at Quesnay. In fact, she is in charge of the chateau, since Mademoiselle Ward is, for the time, away."
"Is she a Frenchwoman?"
"It seems not. In fact, she is an American, though she dresses with so much of taste. Ah, Madame Brossard admits it, and Madame Brossard knows the art of dressing, for she spends a week of every winter in Rouen—and besides there is Trouville itself only some kilometres distant. Madame Brossard says that Mademoiselle Ward dresses with richness and splendour and Madame d'Armand with economy, but beauty. Those were the words used by Madame Brossard. Truly."
"Madame d'Armand's name is French," I observed.
"Yes, that is true," said Amedee thoughtfully. "No one can deny it; it is a French name." He rested the tray upon a stump near by and scratched his head. "I do not understand how that can be," he continued slowly. "Jean Ferret, who is chief gardener at the chateau, is an acquaintance of mine. We sometimes have a cup of cider at Pere Baudry's, a kilometre down the road from here; and Jean Ferret has told me that she is an American. And yet, as you say, monsieur, the name is French. Perhaps she is French after all."
"I believe," said I, "that if I struggled a few days over this puzzle, I might come to the conclusion that Madame d'Armand is an American lady who has married a Frenchman."
The old man uttered an exclamation of triumph.
"Ha! without doubt! Truly she must be an American lady who has married a Frenchman. Monsieur has already solved the puzzle. Truly, truly!" And he trulied himself across the darkness, to emerge in the light of the open door of the kitchen with the word still rumbling in his throat.
Now for a time there came the clinking of dishes, sounds as of pans and kettles being scoured, the rolling gutturals of old Gaston, the cook, and the treble pipings of young "Glouglou," his grandchild and scullion. After a while the oblong of light from the kitchen door disappeared; the voices departed; the stillness of the dark descended, and with it that unreasonable sense of pathos which night in the country brings to the heart of a wanderer. Then, out of the lonely silence, there issued a strange, incongruous sound as an execrable voice essayed to produce the semblance of an air odiously familiar about the streets of Paris some three years past, and I became aware of a smell of some dreadful thing burning. Beneath the arbour I perceived a glowing spark which seemed to bear a certain relation to an oval whitish patch suggesting the front of a shirt. It was Amedee, at ease, smoking his cigarette after the day's work and convinced that he was singing.
"Pour qu'j'finisse Mon service Au Tonkin je suis parti— Ah! quel beau pays, mesdames! C'est l'paradis des p'tites femmes!"
I rose from the chair on my little porch, to go to bed; but I was reminded of something, and called to him.
"Monsieur?" his voice came briskly.
"How often do you see your friend, Jean Ferret, the gardener of Quesnay?"
"Frequently, monsieur. To-morrow morning I could easily carry a message if—"
"That is precisely what I do not wish. And you may as well not mention me at all when you meet him."
"It is understood. Perfectly."
"If it is well understood, there will be a beautiful present for a good maitre d'hotel some day."
"Thank you, monsieur."
"Good night, Amedee."
"Good night, monsieur."
Falling to sleep has always been an intricate matter with me: I liken it to a nightly adventure in an enchanted palace. Weary-limbed and with burning eyelids, after long waiting in the outer court of wakefulness, I enter a dim, cool antechamber where the heavy garment of the body is left behind and where, perhaps, some acquaintance or friend greets me with a familiar speech or a bit of nonsense—or an unseen orchestra may play music that I know. From here I go into a spacious apartment where the air and light are of a fine clarity, for it is the hall of revelations, and in it the secrets of secrets are told, mysteries are resolved, perplexities cleared up, and sometimes I learn what to do about a picture that has bothered me. This is where I would linger, for beyond it I walk among crowding fantasies, delusions, terrors and shame, to a curtain of darkness where they take my memory from me, and I know nothing of my own adventures until I am pushed out of a secret door into the morning sunlight. Amedee was the acquaintance who met me in the antechamber to-night. He remarked that Madame d'Armand was the most beautiful woman in the world, and vanished. And in the hall of revelations I thought that I found a statue of her—but it was veiled. I wished to remove the veil, but a passing stranger stopped and told me laughingly that the veil was all that would ever be revealed of her to me—of her, or any other woman!
I was up with the birds in the morning; had my breakfast with them—a very drowsy-eyed Amedee assisting—and made off for the forest to get the sunrise through the branches, a pack on my back and three sandwiches for lunch in my pocket. I returned only with the failing light of evening, cheerfully tired and ready for a fine dinner and an early bed, both of which the good inn supplied. It was my daily programme; a healthy life "far from the world," as Amedee said, and I was sorry when the serpent entered and disturbed it, though he was my own. He is a pet of mine; has been with me since my childhood. He leaves me when I live alone, for he loves company, but returns whenever my kind are about me. There are many names for snakes of his breed, but, to deal charitably with myself, I call mine Interest-In-Other-People's-Affairs.
One evening I returned to find a big van from Dives, the nearest railway station, drawn up in the courtyard at the foot of the stairs leading to the gallery, and all of the people of the inn, from Madame Brossard (who directed) to Glouglou (who madly attempted the heaviest pieces), busily installing trunks, bags, and packing-cases in the suite engaged for the "great man of science" on the second floor of the east wing of the building. Neither the great man nor his companion was to be seen, however, both having retired to their rooms immediately upon their arrival—so Amedee informed me, as he wiped his brow after staggering up the steps under a load of books wrapped in sacking.
I made my evening ablutions removing a Joseph's coat of dust and paint; and came forth from my pavilion, hoping that Professor Keredec and his friend would not mind eating in the same garden with a man in a corduroy jacket and knickerbockers; but the gentlemen continued invisible to the public eye, and mine was the only table set for dinner in the garden. Up-stairs the curtains were carefully drawn across all the windows of the east wing; little leaks of orange, here and there, betraying the lights within. Glouglou, bearing a tray of covered dishes, was just entering the salon of the "Grande Suite," and the door closed quickly after him.
"It is to be supposed that Professor Keredec and his friend are fatigued with their journey from Paris?" I began, a little later.
"Monsieur, they did not seem fatigued," said Amedee.
"But they dine in their own rooms to-night."
"Every night, monsieur. It is the order of Professor Keredec. And with their own valet-de-chambre to serve them. Eh?" He poured my coffee solemnly. "That is mysterious, to say the least, isn't it?"
"To say the very least," I agreed.
"Monsieur the professor is a man of secrets, it appears," continued Amedee. "When he wrote to Madame Brossard engaging his rooms, he instructed her to be careful that none of us should mention even his name; and to-day when he came, he spoke of his anxiety on that point."
"But you did mention it."
"To whom, monsieur?" asked the old fellow blankly.
"But I told him I had not," said Amedee placidly. "It is the same thing."
"I wonder," I began, struck by a sudden thought, "if it will prove quite the same thing in my own case. I suppose you have not mentioned the circumstance of my being here to your friend, Jean Ferret of Quesnay?"
He looked at me reproachfully. "Has monsieur been troubled by the people of the chateau?"
"'Troubled' by them?"
"Have they come to seek out monsieur and disturb him? Have they done anything whatever to show that they have heard monsieur is here?"
"No, certainly they haven't," I was obliged to retract at once. "I beg your pardon, Amedee."
"Ah, monsieur!" He made a deprecatory bow (which plunged me still deeper in shame), struck a match, and offered a light for my cigar with a forgiving hand. "All the same," he pursued, "it seems very mysterious— this Keredec affair!"
"To comprehend a great man, Amedee," I said, "is the next thing to sharing his greatness."
He blinked slightly, pondered a moment upon this sententious drivel, then very properly ignored it, reverting to his puzzle.
"But is it not incomprehensible that people should eat indoors this fine weather?"
I admitted that it was. I knew very well how hot and stuffy the salon of Madame Brossard's "Grande Suite" must be, while the garden was fragrant in the warm, dry night, and the outdoor air like a gentle tonic. Nevertheless, Professor Keredec and his friend preferred the salon.
When a man is leading a very quiet and isolated life, it is inconceivable what trifles will occupy and concentrate his attention. The smaller the community the more blowzy with gossip you are sure to find it; and I have little doubt that when Friday learned enough English, one of the first things Crusoe did was to tell him some scandal about the goat. Thus, though I treated the "Keredec affair" with a seeming airiness to Amedee, I cunningly drew the faithful rascal out, and fed my curiosity upon his own (which, as time went on and the mystery deepened, seemed likely to burst him), until, virtually, I was receiving, every evening at dinner, a detailed report of the day's doings of Professor Keredec and his companion.
The reports were voluminous, the details few. The two gentlemen, as Amedee would relate, spent their forenoons over books and writing in their rooms. Professor Keredec's voice could often be heard in every part of the inn; at times holding forth with such protracted vehemence that only one explanation would suffice: the learned man was delivering a lecture to his companion.
"Say then!" exclaimed Amedee—"what king of madness is that? To make orations for only one auditor!"
He brushed away my suggestion that the auditor might be a stenographer to whom the professor was dictating chapters for a new book. The relation between the two men, he contended, was more like that between teacher and pupil. "But a pupil with gray hair!" he finished, raising his fat hands to heaven. "For that other monsieur has hair as gray as mine."
"That other monsieur" was farther described as a thin man, handsome, but with a "singular air," nor could my colleague more satisfactorily define this air, though he made a racking struggle to do so.
"In what does the peculiarity of his manner lie?" I asked.
"But it is not so much that his manner is peculiar, monsieur; it is an air about him that is singular. Truly!"
"But how is it singular?"
"Monsieur, it is very, very singular."
"You do not understand," I insisted. "What kind of singularity has the air of 'that other monsieur'?"
"It has," replied Amedee, with a powerful effort, "a very singular singularity."
This was as near as he could come, and, fearful of injuring him, I abandoned that phase of our subject.
The valet-de-chambre whom my fellow-lodgers had brought with them from Paris contributed nothing to the inn's knowledge of his masters, I learned. This struck me not only as odd, but unique, for French servants tell one another everything, and more—very much more. "But this is a silent man," said Amedee impressively. "Oh! very silent! He shakes his head wisely, yet he will not open his mouth. However, that may be because"—and now the explanation came—"because he was engaged only last week and knows nothing. Also, he is but temporary; he returns to Paris soon and Glouglou is to serve them."
I ascertained that although "that other monsieur" had gray hair, he was by no means a person of great age; indeed, Glouglou, who had seen him oftener than any other of the staff, maintained that he was quite young. Amedee's own opportunities for observation had been limited. Every afternoon the two gentlemen went for a walk; but they always came down from the gallery so quickly, he declared, and, leaving the inn by a rear entrance, plunged so hastily into the nearest by-path leading to the forest, that he caught little more than glimpses of them. They returned after an hour or so, entering the inn with the same appearance of haste to be out of sight, the professor always talking, "with the manner of an orator, but in English." Nevertheless, Amedee remarked, it was certain that Professor Keredec's friend was neither an American nor an Englishman. "Why is it certain?" I asked.
"Monsieur, he drinks nothing but water, he does not smoke, and Glouglou says he speaks very pure French."
"Glouglou is an authority who resolves the difficulty. 'That other monsieur' is a Frenchman."
"But, monsieur, he is smooth-shaven."
"Perhaps he has been a maitre d'hotel."
"Eh! I wish one that I know could hope to dress as well when he retires! Besides, Glouglou says that other monsieur eats his soup silently."
"I can find no flaw in the deduction," I said, rising to go to bed. "We must leave it there for to-night."
The next evening Amedee allowed me to perceive that he was concealing something under his arm as he stoked the coffee-machine, and upon my asking what it was, he glanced round the courtyard with histrionic slyness, placed the object on the table beside my cap, and stepped back to watch the impression, his manner that of one who declaims: "At last the missing papers are before you!"
"What is that?" I said.
"It is a book."
"I am persuaded by your candour, Amedee, as well as by the general appearance of this article," I returned as I picked it up, "that you are speaking the truth. But why do you bring it to me?"
"Monsieur," he replied, in the tones of an old conspirator, "this afternoon the professor and that other monsieur went as usual to walk in the forest." He bent over me, pretending to be busy with the coffee- machine, and lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper. "When they returned, this book fell from the pocket of that other monsieur's coat as he ascended the stair, and he did not notice. Later I shall return it by Glouglou, but I thought it wise that monsieur should see it for himself."
The book was Wentworth's Algebra—elementary principles. Painful recollections of my boyhood and the binomial theorem rose in my mind as I let the leaves turn under my fingers. "What do you make of it?" I asked.
His tone became even more confidential. "Part of it, monsieur, is in English; that is plain. I have found an English word in it that I know— the word 'O.' But much of the printing is also in Arabic."
"Arabic!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, monsieur, look there." He laid a fat forefinger on "(a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2." "That is Arabic. Old Gaston has been to Algeria, and he says that he knows Arabic as well as he does French. He looked at the book and told me it was Arabic. Truly! Truly!"
"Did he translate any of it for you?"
"No, monsieur; his eyes pained him this afternoon. He says he will read it to-morrow."
"But you must return the book to-night."
"That is true. Eh! It leaves the mystery deeper than ever, unless monsieur can find some clue in those parts of the book that are English."
I shed no light upon him. The book had been Greek to me in my tender years; it was a pleasure now to leave a fellow-being under the impression that it was Arabic.
But the volume took its little revenge upon me, for it increased my curiosity about Professor Keredec and "that other monsieur." Why were two grown men—one an eminent psychologist and the other a gray-haired youth with a singular air—carrying about on their walks a text-book for the instruction of boys of thirteen or fourteen?
The next day that curiosity of mine was piqued in earnest. It rained and I did not leave the inn, but sat under the great archway and took notes in colour of the shining road, bright drenched fields, and dripping sky. My back was toward the courtyard, that is, "three-quarters" to it, and about noon I became distracted from my work by a strong self- consciousness which came upon me without any visible or audible cause. Obeying an impulse, I swung round on my camp-stool and looked up directly at the gallery window of the salon of the "Grande Suite."
A man with a great white beard was standing at the window, half hidden by the curtain, watching me intently.
He perceived that I saw him and dropped the curtain immediately, a speck of colour in his buttonhole catching my eye as it fell.
The spy was Professor Keredec.
But why should he study me so slyly and yet so obviously? I had no intention of intruding upon him. Nor was I a psychological "specimen," though I began to suspect that "that other monsieur" WAS.
I had been painting in various parts of the forest, studying the early morning along the eastern fringe and moving deeper in as the day advanced. For the stillness and warmth of noon I went to the very woodland heart, and in the late afternoon moved westward to a glade—a chance arena open to the sky, the scene of my most audacious endeavours, for here I was trying to paint foliage luminous under those long shafts of sunshine which grow thinner but ruddier toward sunset. A path closely bordered by underbrush wound its way to the glade, crossed it, then wandered away into shady dingles again; and with my easel pitched in the mouth of this path, I sat at work, one late afternoon, wonderful for its still loveliness.
The path debouched abruptly on the glade and was so narrow that when I leaned back my elbows were in the bushes, and it needed care to keep my palette from being smirched by the leaves; though there was more room for my canvas and easel, as I had placed them at arm's length before me, fairly in the open. I had the ambition to paint a picture here—to do the whole thing in the woods from day to day, instead of taking notes for the studio—and was at work upon a very foolish experiment: I had thought to render the light—broken by the branches and foliage—with broken brush-work, a short stroke of the kind that stung an elder painter to swear that its practitioners painted in shaking fear of the concierge appearing for the studio rent. The attempt was alluring, but when I rose from my camp-stool and stepped back into the path to get more distance for my canvas, I saw what a mess I was making of it. At the same time, my hand, falling into the capacious pocket of my jacket, encountered a package, my lunch, which I had forgotten to eat, whereupon, becoming suddenly aware that I was very hungry, I began to eat Amedee's good sandwiches without moving from where I stood.
Absorbed, gazing with abysmal disgust at my canvas, I was eating absent- mindedly—and with all the restraint and dignity of a Georgia darky attacking a watermelon—when a pleasant voice spoke from just behind me.
"Pardon, monsieur; permit me to pass, if you please."
That was all it said, very quietly and in French, but a gunshot might have startled me less.
I turned in confusion to behold a dark-eyed lady, charmingly dressed in lilac and white, waiting for me to make way so that she could pass.
Nay, let me leave no detail of my mortification unrecorded: I have just said that I "turned in confusion"; the truth is that I jumped like a kangaroo, but with infinitely less grace. And in my nervous haste to clear her way, meaning only to push the camp-stool out of the path with my foot, I put too much valour into the push, and with horror saw the camp-stool rise in the air and drop to the ground again nearly a third of the distance across the glade.
Upon that I squeezed myself back into the bushes, my ears singing and my cheeks burning.
There are women who will meet or pass a strange man in the woods or fields with as finished an air of being unaware of him (particularly if he be a rather shabby painter no longer young) as if the encounter took place on a city sidewalk; but this woman was not of that priggish kind. Her straightforward glance recognised my existence as a fellow-being; and she further acknowledged it by a faint smile, which was of courtesy only, however, and admitted no reference to the fact that at the first sound of her voice I had leaped into the air, kicked a camp-stool twenty feet, and now stood blushing, so shamefully stuffed with sandwich that I dared not speak.
"Thank you," she said as she went by; and made me a little bow so graceful that it almost consoled me for my caperings.
I stood looking after her as she crossed the clearing and entered the cool winding of the path on the other side.
I stared and wished—wished that I could have painted her into my picture, with the thin, ruddy sunshine flecking her dress; wished that I had not cut such an idiotic figure. I stared until her filmy summer hat, which was the last bit of her to disappear, had vanished. Then, discovering that I still held the horrid remains of a sausage-sandwich in my hand, I threw it into the underbrush with unnecessary force, and, recovering my camp-stool, sat down to work again.
I did not immediately begin.
The passing of a pretty woman anywhere never comes to be quite of no moment to a man, and the passing of a pretty woman in the greenwood is an episode—even to a middle-aged landscape painter.
"An episode?" quoth I. I should be ashamed to withhold the truth out of my fear to be taken for a sentimentalist: this woman who had passed was of great and instant charm; it was as if I had heard a serenade there in the woods—and at thought of the jig I had danced to it my face burned again.
With a sigh of no meaning, I got my eyes down to my canvas and began to peck at it perfunctorily, when a snapping of twigs underfoot and a swishing of branches in the thicket warned me of a second intruder, not approaching by the path, but forcing a way toward it through the underbrush, and very briskly too, judging by the sounds.
He burst out into the glade a few paces from me, a tall man in white flannels, liberally decorated with brambles and clinging shreds of underbrush. A streamer of vine had caught about his shoulders; there were leaves on his bare head, and this, together with the youthful sprightliness of his light figure and the naive activity of his approach, gave me a very faunlike first impression of him.
At sight of me he stopped short.
"Have you seen a lady in a white and lilac dress and with roses in her hat?" he demanded, omitting all preface and speaking with a quick eagerness which caused me no wonder—for I had seen the lady.
What did surprise me, however, was the instantaneous certainty with which I recognised the speaker from Amedee's description; certainty founded on the very item which had so dangerously strained the old fellow's powers.
My sudden gentleman was strikingly good-looking, his complexion so clear and boyishly healthy, that, except for his gray hair, he might have passed for twenty-two or twenty-three, and even as it was I guessed his years short of thirty; but there are plenty of handsome young fellows with prematurely gray hair, and, as Amedee said, though out of the world we were near it. It was the new-comer's "singular air" which established his identity. Amedee's vagueness had irked me, but the thing itself—the "singular air"—was not at all vague. Instantly perceptible, it was an investiture; marked, definite—and intangible. My interrogator was "that other monsieur."
In response to his question I asked him another:
"Were the roses real or artificial?"
"I don't know," he answered, with what I took to be a whimsical assumption of gravity. "It wouldn't matter, would it? Have you seen her?"
He stooped to brush the brambles from his trousers, sending me a sidelong glance from his blue eyes, which were brightly confident and inquiring, like a boy's. At the same time it struck me that whatever the nature of the singularity investing him it partook of nothing repellent, but, on the contrary, measurably enhanced his attractiveness; making him "different" and lending him a distinction which, without it, he might have lacked. And yet, patent as this singularity must have been to the dullest, it was something quite apart from any eccentricity of manner, though, heaven knows, I was soon to think him odd enough.
"Isn't your description," I said gravely, thinking to suit my humour to his own, "somewhat too general? Over yonder a few miles lies Houlgate. Trouville itself is not so far, and this is the season. A great many white hats trimmed with roses might come for a stroll in these woods. If you would complete the items—" and I waved my hand as if inviting him to continue.
"I have seen her only once before," he responded promptly, with a seriousness apparently quite genuine. "That was from my window at an inn, three days ago. She drove by in an open carriage without looking up, but I could see that she was very handsome. No—" he broke off abruptly, but as quickly resumed—"handsome isn't just what I mean. Lovely, I should say. That is more like her and a better thing to be, shouldn't you think so?"
"Probably—yes—I think so," I stammered, in considerable amazement.
"She went by quickly," he said, as if he were talking in the most natural and ordinary way in the world, "but I noticed that while she was in the shade of the inn her hair appeared to be dark, though when the carriage got into the sunlight again it looked fair."
I had noticed the same thing when the lady who had passed emerged from the shadows of the path into the sunshine of the glade, but I did not speak of it now; partly because he gave me no opportunity, partly because I was almost too astonished to speak at all, for I was no longer under the delusion that he had any humourous or whimsical intention.
"A little while ago," he went on, "I was up in the branches of a tree over yonder, and I caught a glimpse of a lady in a light dress and a white hat and I thought it might be the same. She wore a dress like that and a white hat with roses when she drove by the inn. I am very anxious to see her again."
"You seem to be!"
"And haven't you seen her? Hasn't she passed this way?"
He urged the question with the same strange eagerness which had marked his manner from the first, a manner which confounded me by its absurd resemblance to that of a boy who had not mixed with other boys and had never been teased. And yet his expression was intelligent and alert; nor was there anything abnormal or "queer" in his good-humoured gaze.
"I think that I may have seen her," I began slowly; "but if you do not know her I should not advise—"
I was interrupted by a shout and the sound of a large body plunging in the thicket. At this the face of "that other monsieur" flushed slightly; he smiled, but seemed troubled.
"That is a friend of mine," he said. "I am afraid he will want me to go back with him." And he raised an answering shout.
Professor Keredec floundered out through the last row of saplings and bushes, his beard embellished with a broken twig, his big face red and perspiring. He was a fine, a mighty man, ponderous of shoulder, monumental of height, stupendous of girth; there was cloth enough in the hot-looking black frock-coat he wore for the canopy of a small pavilion. Half a dozen books were under his arm, and in his hand he carried a hat which evidently belonged to "that other monsieur," for his own was on his head.
One glance of scrutiny and recognition he shot at me from his silver- rimmed spectacles; and seized the young man by the arm.
"Ha, my friend!" he exclaimed in a bass voice of astounding power and depth, "that is one way to study botany: to jump out of the middle of a high tree and to run like a crazy man!" He spoke with a strong accent and a thunderous rolling of the "r." "What was I to think?" he demanded. "What has arrived to you?"
"I saw a lady I wished to follow," the other answered promptly.
"A lady! What lady?"
"The lady who passed the inn three days ago. I spoke of her then, you remember."
"Tonnerre de Dieu!" Keredec slapped his thigh with the sudden violence of a man who remembers that he has forgotten something, and as a final addition to my amazement, his voice rang more of remorse than of reproach. "Have I never told you that to follow strange ladies is one of the things you cannot do?"
"That other monsieur" shook his head. "No, you have never told me that. I do not understand it," he said, adding irrelevantly, "I believe this gentleman knows her. He says he thinks he has seen her."
"If you please, we must not trouble this gentleman about it," said the professor hastily. "Put on your hat, in the name of a thousand saints, and let us go!"
"But I wish to ask him her name," urged the other, with something curiously like the obstinacy of a child. "I wish—"
"No, no!" Keredec took him by the arm. "We must go. We shall be late for our dinner."
"But why?" persisted the young man.
"Not now!" The professor removed his broad felt hat and hurriedly wiped his vast and steaming brow—a magnificent structure, corniced, at this moment, with anxiety. "It is better if we do not discuss it now."
"But I might not meet him again."
Professor Keredec turned toward me with a half-desperate, half- apologetic laugh which was like the rumbling of heavy wagons over a block pavement; and in his flustered face I thought I read a signal of genuine distress.
"I do not know the lady," I said with some sharpness. "I have never seen her until this afternoon."
Upon this "that other monsieur" astonished me in good earnest. Searching my eyes eagerly with his clear, inquisitive gaze, he took a step toward me and said:
"You are sure you are telling the truth?"
The professor uttered an exclamation of horror, sprang forward, and clutched his friend's arm again. "Malheureux!" he cried, and then to me: "Sir, you will give him pardon if you can? He has no meaning to be rude."
"Rude?" The young man's voice showed both astonishment and pain. "Was that rude? I didn't know. I didn't mean to be rude, God knows! Ah," he said sadly, "I do nothing but make mistakes. I hope you will forgive me."
He lifted his hand as if in appeal, and let it drop to his side; and in the action, as well as in the tone of his voice and his attitude of contrition, there was something that reached me suddenly, with the touch of pathos.
"Never mind," I said. "I am only sorry that it was the truth."
"Thank you," he said, and turned humbly to Keredec.
"Ha, that is better!" shouted the great man, apparently relieved of a vast weight. "We shall go home now and eat a good dinner. But first—" his silver-rimmed spectacles twinkled upon me, and he bent his Brobdingnagian back in a bow which against my will reminded me of the curtseys performed by Orloff's dancing bears—"first let me speak some words for myself. My dear sir"—he addressed himself to me with grave formality—"do not suppose I have no realization that other excuses should be made to you. Believe me, they shall be. It is now that I see it is fortunate for us that you are our fellow-innsman at Les Trois Pigeons."
I was unable to resist the opportunity, and, affecting considerable surprise, interrupted him with the apparently guileless query:
"Why, how did you know that?"
Professor Keredec's laughter rumbled again, growing deeper and louder till it reverberated in the woods and a hundred hale old trees laughed back at him.
"Ho, ho, ho!" he shouted. "But you shall not take me for a window- curtain spy! That is a fine reputation I give myself with you! Ho, ho!"
Then, followed submissively by "that other monsieur," he strode into the path and went thundering forth through the forest.
No doubt the most absurd thing I could have done after the departure of Professor Keredec and his singular friend would have been to settle myself before my canvas again with the intention of painting—and that is what I did. At least, I resumed my camp-stool and went through some of the motions habitually connected with the act of painting.
I remember that the first time in my juvenile reading I came upon the phrase, "seated in a brown study," I pictured my hero in a brown chair, beside a brown table, in a room hung with brown paper. Later, being enlightened, I was ambitious to display the figure myself, but the uses of ordinary correspondence allowed the occasion for it to remain unoffered. Let me not only seize upon the present opportunity but gild it, for the adventure of the afternoon left me in a study which was, at its mildest, a profound purple.
The confession has been made of my curiosity concerning my fellow- lodgers at Les Trois Pigeons; however, it had been comparatively a torpid growth; my meeting with them served to enlarge it so suddenly and to such proportions that I wonder it did not strangle me. In fine, I sat there brush-paddling my failure like an automaton, and saying over and over aloud, "What is wrong with him? What is wrong with him?"
This was the sillier inasmuch as the word "wrong" (bearing any significance of a darkened mind) had not the slightest application to "that other monsieur." There had been neither darkness nor dullness; his eyes, his expression, his manner, betrayed no hint of wildness; rather they bespoke a quick and amiable intelligence—the more amazing that he had shown himself ignorant of things a child of ten would know. Amedee and his fellows of Les Trois Pigeons had judged wrongly of his nationality; his face was of the lean, right, American structure; but they had hit the relation between the two men: Keredec was the master and "that other monsieur" the scholar—a pupil studying boys' textbooks and receiving instruction in matters and manners that children are taught. And yet I could not believe him to be a simple case of arrested development. For the matter of that, I did not like to think of him as a "case" at all. There had been something about his bright youthfulness— perhaps it was his quick contrition for his rudeness, perhaps it was a certain wistful quality he had, perhaps it was his very "singularity"— which appealed as directly to my liking as it did urgently to my sympathy.
I came out of my vari-coloured study with a start, caused by the discovery that I had absent-mindedly squeezed upon my palette the entire contents of an expensive tube of cobalt violet, for which I had no present use; and sighing (for, of necessity, I am an economical man), I postponed both of my problems till another day, determined to efface the one with a palette knife and a rag soaked in turpentine, and to defer the other until I should know more of my fellow-lodgers at Madame Brossard's.
The turpentine rag at least proved effective; I scoured away the last tokens of my failure with it, wishing that life were like the canvas and that men had knowledge of the right celestial turpentine. After that I cleaned my brushes, packed and shouldered my kit, and, with a final imprecation upon all sausage-sandwiches, took up my way once more to Les Trois Pigeons.
Presently I came upon an intersecting path where, on my previous excursions, I had always borne to the right; but this evening, thinking to discover a shorter cut, I went straight ahead. Striding along at a good gait and chanting sonorously, "On Linden when the sun was low," I left the rougher boscages of the forest behind me and emerged, just at sunset, upon an orderly fringe of woodland where the ground was neat and unencumbered, and the trimmed trees stood at polite distances, bowing slightly to one another with small, well-bred rustlings.
The light was somewhere between gold and pink when I came into this lady's boudoir of a grove. "Isar flowing rapidly" ceased its tumult abruptly, and Linden saw no sterner sight that evening: my voice and my feet stopped simultaneously—for I stood upon Quesnay ground.
Before me stretched a short broad avenue of turf, leading to the chateau gates. These stood open, a gravelled driveway climbing thence by easy stages between kempt shrubberies to the crest of the hill, where the gray roof and red chimney-pots of the chateau were glimpsed among the tree-tops. The slope was terraced with strips of flower-gardens and intervals of sward; and against the green of a rising lawn I marked the figure of a woman, pausing to bend over some flowering bush. The figure was too slender to be mistaken for that of the present chatelaine of Quesnay: in Miss Elizabeth's regal amplitude there was never any hint of fragility. The lady upon the slope, then, I concluded, must be Madame d'Armand, the inspiration of Amedee's "Monsieur has much to live for!"
Once more this day I indorsed that worthy man's opinion, for, though I was too far distant to see clearly, I knew that roses trimmed Madame d'Armand's white hat, and that she had passed me, no long time since, in the forest.
I took off my cap.
"I have the honour to salute you," I said aloud. "I make my apologies for misbehaving with sandwiches and camp-stools in your presence, Madame d'Armand."
Something in my own pronunciation of her name struck me as reminiscent: save for the prefix, it had sounded like "Harman," as a Frenchman might pronounce it.
Foreign names involve the French in terrible difficulties. Hughes, an English friend of mine, has lived in France some five-and-thirty years without reconciling himself to being known as "Monsieur Ig."
"Armand" might easily be Jean Ferret's translation of "Harman." Had he and Amedee in their admiration conferred the prefix because they considered it a plausible accompaniment to the lady's gentle bearing? It was not impossible; it was, I concluded, very probable.
I had come far out of my way, so I retraced my steps to the intersection of the paths, and thence made for the inn by my accustomed route. The light failed under the roofing of foliage long before I was free of the woods, and I emerged upon the road to Les Trois Pigeons when twilight had turned to dusk.
Not far along the road from where I came into it, stood an old, brown, deep-thatched cottage—a branch of brushwood over the door prettily beckoning travellers to the knowledge that cider was here for the thirsty; and as I drew near I perceived that one availed himself of the invitation. A group stood about the open door, the lamp-light from within disclosing the head of the house filling a cup for the wayfarer; while honest Mere Baudry and two generations of younger Baudrys clustered to miss no word of the interchange of courtesies between Pere Baudry and his chance patron.
It afforded me some surprise to observe that the latter was a most mundane and elaborate wayfarer, indeed; a small young man very lightly made, like a jockey, and point-device in khaki, puttees, pongee cap, white-and-green stock, a knapsack on his back, and a bamboo stick under his arm; altogether equipped to such a high point of pedestrianism that a cynical person might have been reminded of loud calls for wine at some hostelry in the land of opera bouffe. He was speaking fluently, though with a detestable accent, in a rough-and-ready, pick-up dialect of Parisian slang, evidently under the pleasant delusion that he employed the French language, while Pere Baudry contributed his share of the conversation in a slow patois. As both men spoke at the same time and neither understood two consecutive words the other said, it struck me that the dialogue might prove unproductive of any highly important results this side of Michaelmas; therefore, discovering that the very pedestrian gentleman was making some sort of inquiry concerning Les Trois Pigeons, I came to a halt and proffered aid.
"Are you looking for Madame Brossard's?" I asked in English.
The traveller uttered an exclamation and faced about with a jump, birdlike for quickness. He did not reply to my question with the same promptness; however, his deliberation denoted scrutiny, not sloth. He stood peering at me sharply until I repeated it. Even then he protracted his examination of me, a favour I was unable to return with any interest, owing to the circumstance of his back being toward the light. Nevertheless, I got a clear enough impression of his alert, well-poised little figure, and of a hatchety little face, and a pair of shrewd little eyes, which (I thought) held a fine little conceit of his whole little person. It was a type of fellow-countryman not altogether unknown about certain "American Bars" of Paris, and usually connected (more or less directly) with what is known to the people of France as "le Sport."
"Say," he responded in a voice of unpleasant nasality, finally deciding upon speech, "you're 'Nummeric'n, ain't you?"