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- The Beautiful Lady - 5/10 -
were provided with excessive suppers and souvenir fans by the inexhaustible Poor Jr.! He left a trail of pink hundred-franc notes behind him, like a running boy dropping paper in the English game; and he kept showers of gold louis dancing in the air about him, so that when we entered the various cafes or "American bars" a cheer (not vocal but to me of perfect audibility) went up from the hungry and thirsty and borrowing, and from the attendants. Ah, how tired I was of it, and how I endeavoured to discover a means to draw him to the museums, and to Notre Dame and the Pantheon!
And how many times did I unwillingly find myself in the too enlivening company of those pretty supper-girls, and what jokings upon his head-top did the poor bald gentleman not undergo from those same demoiselles with the bright eyes, the wonderful hats, and the fluffy dresses!
How often among those gay people did I find myself sadly dreaming of that grey pongee skirt and the beautiful heart that had understood! Should I ever see that lady? Not, I knew, alas! in the whirl about Poor Jr.! As soon look for a nun at the Cafe' Blanche!
For some reason I came to be persuaded that she had left Paris, that she had gone away; and I pictured her--a little despairingly--on the borders of Lucerne, with the white Alps in the sky above her,--or perhaps listening to the evening songs on the Grand Canal, and I would try to feel the little rocking of her gondola, making myself dream that I sat at her feet. Or I could see the grey flicker of the pongee skirt in the twilight distance of cathedral aisles with a chant sounding from a chapel; and, so dreaming, I would start spasmodically, to hear the red-coated orchestra of a cafe' blare out into "Bedelia," and awake to the laughter and rouge and blague which that dear pongee had helped me for a moment to forget!
To all places, Poor Jr., though never unkindly, dragged me with him, even to make the balloon ascent at the Porte Maillot on a windy evening. Without embarrassment I confess that I was terrified, that I clung to the ropes with a clutch which frayed my gloves, while Poor Jr. leaned back against the side of the basket and gazed upward at the great swaying ball, with his hands in his pockets, humming the strange ballad that was his favourite musical composition:
"The prettiest girl I ever saw
Was sipping cider through a straw-aw-haw!"
In that horrifying basket, scrambling for a foothold while it swung through arcs that were gulfs, I believed that my sorrows approached a sudden conclusion, but finding myself again upon the secure earth, I decided to come to an understanding with the young man.
Accordingly, on the following morning, I entered his apartment and addresses myself to Poor Jr. as severely as I could (for, truthfully, in all his follies I had found no ugliness in his spirit--only a good-natured and inscrutable desire of wild amusement) reminding him of the authority his father had deputed to me, and having the venturesomeness to hint that the son should show some respect to my superior age.
To my consternation he replied by inquiring if I had shaved my head as yet that morning. I could only drop in a chair, stammering to know what he meant.
"Didn't you suppose I knew?" he asked, elevating himself slightly on his elbow from the pillow. "Three weeks ago I left my aged parent in London and ran over here for a day. I saw you at the Cafe' de la Paix, and even then I knew that it was shaved, not naturally bald. When you came here I recognized you like a shot, and that was why I was glad to accept you as a guardian. I've enjoyed myself considerably of late, and you've been the best part of it,--I think you are a wonderation! I wouldn't have any other governess for the world, but you surpass the orchestra when you beg me to respect your years! I will bet you four dollars to a lead franc piece that you are younger than I am!"
Imagine the completeness of my dismay! Although he spoke in tones the most genial, and without unkindness, I felt myself a man of tatters before him, ashamed to have him know my sorry secret, hopeless to see all chance of authority over him gone at once, and with it my opportunity to earn a salary so generous, for if I could continue to be but an amusement to him and only part of his deception of Lambert R. Poor, my sense of honour must be fit for the guillotine indeed.
I had a little struggle with myself, and I think I must have wiped some amounts of the cold perspiration from my absurd head before I was able to make an answer. It may be seen what a coward I was, and how I feared to begin again that search for employment. At last, however, I was in self-control, so that I might speak without being afraid that my voice would shake.
"I am sorry," I said. "It seemed to me that my deception would not cause any harm, and that I might be useful in spite of it -- enough to earn my living. It was on account of my being very poor; and there are two little children I must take care of. -- Well, at least, it is over now. I have had great shame, but I must not have greater."
"What do you mean?" he asked me rather sharply.
"I will leave immediately," I said, going to the door. "Since I am no more than a joke, I can be of no service to your father or to you; but you must not think that I am so unreasonable as to be angry with you. A man whom you have beheld reduced to what I was, at the Cafe' de la Paix, is surely a joke to the whole world! I will write to your father before I leave the hotel and explain that I feel myself unqualified--"
"You're going to write to him why you give it up!" he exclaimed.
"I shall make no report of espionage," I answered, with, perhaps, some bitterness, "and I will leave the letter for you to read and to send, of yourself. It shall only tell him that as a man of honour I cannot keep a position for which I have no qualification."
I was going to open the door, bidding him adieu, when he called out to me.
"Look here!" he said, and he jumped out of bed in his pajamas and came quickly, and held out his hand. "Look here, Ansolini, don't take it that way. I know you've had pretty hard times, and if you'll stay, I'll get good. I'll go to the Louvre with you this afternoon; we'll dine at one of the Duval restaurants, and go to that new religious tragedy afterwards. If you like, we'll leave Paris to-morrow. There's a little too much movement here, maybe. For God's sake, let your hair grow, and we'll go down to Italy and study bones and ruins and delight the aged parent! -- It's all right, isn't it?"
I shook the hand of that kind Poor Jr. with a feeling in my heart that kept me from saying how greatly I thanked him--and I was sure that I could do anything for him in the world!
Three days later saw us on the pretty waters of Lake Leman, in the bright weather when Mont Blanc heaves his great bare shoulders of ice miles into the blue sky, with no mist-cloak about him.
Sailing that lake in the cool morning, what a contrast to the champagne houpla nights of Paris! And how docile was my pupil! He suffered me to lead him through the Castle of Chillon like a new-born lamb, and even would not play the little horses in the Kursaal at Geneva, although, perhaps, that was because the stakes were not high enough to interest him. He was nearly always silent, and, from the moment of our departure from Paris, had fallen into dreamfulness, such as would come over myself at the thought of the beautiful lady. It touched my heart to find how he was ready with acquiescence to the slightest suggestion of mine, and, if it had been the season, I am almost credulous that I could have conducted him to Baireuth to hear Parsifal!
There were times when his mood of gentle sorrow was so like mine that I wondered if he, too, knew a grey pongee skirt. I wondered over this so much, and so marvellingly, also, because of the change in him, that at last I asked him.
We had gone to Lucerne; it was clear moonlight, and we smoked on our little balcony at the Schweitzerhof, puffing our small clouds in the enormous face of the strangest panorama of the world, that august disturbation of the earth by gods in battle, left to be a land of tragic fables since before Pilate was there, and remaining the same after William Tell was not. I sat looking up at the mountains, and he leaned on the rail, looking down at the lake. Somewhere a woman was singing from Pagliacci, and I slowly arrived at a consciousness that I had sighed aloud once or twice, not so much sadly, as of longing to see that lady, and that my companion had permitted similar sounds to escape him, but more mournfully. It was then that I asked him, in earnestness, yet with the manner of making a joke, if he did not think often of some one in North America.
"Do you believe that could be, and I making the disturbance I did in Paris?" he returned.
"Yes," I told him, "if you are trying to forget her."
"I should think it might look more as if I were trying to forget that I wasn't good enough for her and that she knew it!"
He spoke in a voice which he would have made full of ease -- "off-hand," as they say; but he failed to do so.
"That was the case?" I pressed him, you see, but smilingly.
"Looks a good deal like it," he replied, smoking much at once.
"So? But that is good for you, my friend!"
"Probably." He paused, smoking still more, and then said, "It's
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