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- The Beautiful Lady - 4/10 -
was important that you should be middle-aged. I swore that you were at least thirty-eight, but, owing to exemplary habits, looked very much younger. The cub himself is twenty-four.
"Hence, if you are really serious and determined not to appeal to your people, call at once upon Mr. Lambert R. Poor, of the Hotel d'Iena. He is the father, and the cub is with him. The elder Yankee is primed with my praises of you, and must engage someone at once, as he sails in a day or two. Go--with my blessing, an air of piety, and as much age as you can assume. When the father has departed, throw the cub into the Seine, but preserve his pocket-book, and we shall have another go at those infernal tables. Vale! J.G.S."
I found myself smiling--I fear miserably--over this kind letter, especially at the wonder of my friend that I had not appealed to my relatives. The only ones who would have liked to help me, if they had known I needed something, were my two little nieces who were in my own care; because my father, being but a poet, had no family, and my mother had lost hers, even her eldest son, by marrying my father. After that they would have nothing to do with her, nor were they asked. That rascally old Antonio was now the head of all the Caravacioli, as was I of my own outcast branch of our house--that is, of my two little nieces and myself. It was partly of these poor infants I had thought when I took what was left of my small inheritance to Monte Carlo, hoping, since I seemed to be incapable of increasing it in any other way, that number seventeen and black would hand me over a fortune as a waiter does wine. Alas! Luck is not always a fool's servant, and the kind of fortune she handed me was of that species the waiter brings you in the other bottle of champagne, the gold of a bubbling brain, lasting an hour. After this there is always something evil to one's head, and mine, alas! was shaved.
Half an hour after I had read the letter, the little paper- flower makers in the attic window across from mine may have seen me shaving it--without pleasure--again. What else was I to do? I could not well expect to be given the guardianship of an erring young man if I presented myself to his parent as a gentleman who had been sitting at the Cafe' de la Paix with his head painted. I could not wear my hat through the interview. I could not exhibit the thick five days' stubble, to appear in contrast with the heavy fringe that had been spared;--I could not trim the fringe to the shortness of the stubble; I should have looked like Pierrot. I had only, then, to remain bald, and, if I obtained the post, to shave in secret--a harmless and mournful imposition.
It was well for me that I came to this determination. I believe it was the appearance of maturity which my head and dining upon thoughts lent me, as much as my friend's praises, which created my success with the amiable Mr. Lambert R. Poor. I witness that my visit to him provided one of the most astonishing interviews of my life. He was an instance of those strange beings of the Western republic, at whom we are perhaps too prone to pass from one of ourselves to another the secret smile, because of some little imperfections of manner. It is a type which has grown more and more familiar to us, yet never less strange: the man in costly but severe costume, big, with a necessary great waistcoat, not noticing the loudness of his own voice; as ignorant of the thousand tiny things which we observe and feel as he would be careless of them (except for his wife) if he knew. We laugh at him, sometimes even to his face, and he does not perceive it. We are a little afraid that he is too large to see it; hence too large for us to comprehend, and in spite of our laughter we are always conscious of a force--yes, of a presence! We jeer slyly, but we respect, fear a little, and would trust.
Such was my patron. He met me with a kind greeting, looked at me very earnestly, but smiling as if he understood my good intentions, as one understands the friendliness of a capering poodle, yet in such a way that I could not feel resentment, for I could see that he looked at almost everyone in the same fashion.
My friend had done wonders for me; and I made the best account of myself that I could, so that within half an hour it was arranged that I should take charge of his son, with an honourarium which gave me great rejoicing for my nieces and my accumulated appetite.
"I think I can pick men," he said, "and I think that you are the man I want. You're old enough and you've seen enough, and you know enough to keep one fool boy in order for six months."
So frankly he spoke of his son, yet not without affection and confidence. Before I left, he sent for the youth himself, Lambert R. Poor, Jr.,--not at all a Caliban, but a most excellent-appearing, tall gentleman, of astonishingly meek countenance. He gave me a sad, slow look from his blue eyes at first; then with a brightening smile he gently shook my hand, murmuring that he was very glad in the prospect of knowing me better; after which the parent defined before him, with singular elaboration, my duties. I was to correct all things in his behaviour which I considered improper or absurd. I was to dictate the line of travel, to have a restraining influence upon expenditures; in brief, to control the young man as a governess does a child.
To all of his parent's instructions Poor Jr. returned a dutiful nod and expressed perfect acquiescence. The following day the elder sailed from Cherbourg, and I took up my quarters with the son.
It is with the most extreme mortification that I record my ensuing experiences, for I felt that I could not honourably accept my salary without earning it by carrying out the parent Poor's wishes. That first morning I endeavoured to direct my pupil's steps toward the Musee de Cluny, with the purpose of inciting him to instructive study; but in the mildest, yet most immovable manner, he proposed Longchamps and the races as a substitute, to conclude with dinner at La Cascade and supper at Maxim's or the Cafe' Blanche, in case we should meet engaging company. I ventured the vainest efforts to reason with him, making for myself a very uncomfortable breakfast, though without effect upon him of any visibility. His air was uninterruptedly mild and modest; he rarely lifted his eyes, but to my most earnest argument replied only by ordering more eggs and saying in a chastened voice:
"Oh no; it is always best to begin school with a vacation. To Longchamps--we!"
I should say at once that through this young man I soon became an amateur of the remarkable North-American idioms, of humour and incomparable brevities often more interesting than those evolved by the thirteen or more dialects of my own Naples. Even at our first breakfast I began to catch lucid glimpses of the intention in many of his almost incomprehensible statements. I was able, even, to penetrate his meaning when he said that although he was "strong for aged parent," he himself had suffered much anguish from overwork of the "earnest youth racquette" in his late travels, and now desired to "create considerable trouble for Paris."
Naturally, I did not wish to begin by antagonizing my pupil -- an estrangement at the commencement would only lead to his deceiving me, or a continued quarrel, in which case I should be of no service to my kind patron, so that after a strained interval I considered it best to surrender.
We went to Longchamps.
That was my first mistake; the second was to yield to him concerning the latter part of his programme; but opposition to Mr. Poor, Jr. had a curious effect of inutility. He had not in the least the air of obstinacy,--nothing could have been less like rudeness; he neither frowned not smiled; no, he did not seem even to be insisting; on the contrary, never have I beheld a milder countenance, nor heard a pleasanter voice; yet the young man was so completely baffling in his mysterious way that I considered him unique to my experience.
Thus, when I urged him not to place large wagers in the pesage, his whispered reply was strange and simple--"Watch me!" This he conclusively said as he deposited another thousand-franc note, which, within a few moments, accrued to the French government.
Longchamps was but the beginning of a series of days and nights which wore upon my constitution--not indeed with the intensity of mortification which my former conspicuosity had engendered, yet my sorrows were stringent. It is true that I had been, since the age of seventeen, no stranger to the gaieties and dissipations afforded by the capitals of Europe; I may say I had exhausted these, yet always with some degree of quiet, including intervals of repose. I was tired of all the great foolishnesses of youth, and had thought myself done with them. Now I found myself plunged into more uproarious waters than I had ever known I, who had hoped to begin a life of usefulness and peace, was forced to dwell in the midst of a riot, pursuing my extraordinary charge.
There is no need that I should describe those days and nights. They remain in my memory as a confusion of bad music, crowds, motor-cars and champagne of which Poor Jr. was a distributing centre. He could never be persuaded to the Louvre, the Carnavalet, or the Luxembourg; in truth, he seldom rose in time to reach the museums, for they usually close at four in the afternoon. Always with the same inscrutable meekness of countenance, each night he methodically danced the cake-walk at Maxim's or one of the Montemarte restaurants, to the cheers of acquaintances of many nationalities, to whom he offered libations with prodigal enormity. He carried with him, about the boulevards at night, in the highly powerful car he had hired, large parties of strange people, who would loudly sing airs from the Folie-Rouge (to my unhappy shudderings) all the way from the fatiguing Bal Bullier to the Cafe' de Paris, where the waiters soon became affluent.
And how many of those gaily dressed and smiling ladies whose bright eyes meet yours on the veranda of the Theatre Marigny
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