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- The Guest of Quesnay - 1/37 -
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.
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