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- The Guest of Quesnay - 10/37 -
deeply marked upon his countenance as to be noticeable, even in the feeble lamplight.
I tarried no longer, but bidding this good youth and the generations of Baudry good-night, hastened on to my belated dinner.
"Amedee," I said, when my cigar was lighted and the usual hour of consultation had arrived; "isn't that old lock on the chest where Madame Brossard keeps her silver getting rather rusty?"
"Monsieur, we have no thieves here. We are out of the world."
"Yes, but Trouville is not so far away."
"Many strange people go to Trouville: grand-dukes, millionaires, opera singers, princes, jockeys, gamblers--"
"And tourists," I finished.
"That is well known," assented Amedee, nodding.
"It follows," I continued with the impressiveness of all logicians, "that many strange people may come from Trouville. In their excursions to the surrounding points of interest--"
"Eh, monsieur, but that is true!" he interrupted, laying his right forefinger across the bridge of his nose, which was his gesture when he remembered anything suddenly. "There was a strange monsieur from Trouville here this very day."
"What kind of person was he?"
"A foreigner, but I could not tell from what country."
"What time of day was he here?" I asked, with growing interest.
"Toward the middle of the afternoon. I was alone, except for Glouglou, when he came. He wished to see the whole house and I showed him what I could, except of course monsieur's pavilion, and the Grande Suite. Monsieur the Professor and that other monsieur had gone to the forest, but I did not feel at liberty to exhibit their rooms without Madame Brossard's permission, and she was spending the day at Dives. Besides," added the good man, languidly snapping a napkin at a moth near one of the candles, "the doors were locked."
"This person was a tourist?" I asked, after a pause during which Amedee seemed peacefully unaware of the rather concentrated gaze I had fixed upon him. "Of a kind. In speaking he employed many peculiar expressions, more like a thief of a Parisian cabman than of the polite world."
"The devil he did!" said I. "Did he tell you why he wished to see the whole house? Did he contemplate taking rooms here?"
"No, monsieur, it appears that his interest was historical. At first I should not have taken him for a man of learning, yet he gave me a great piece of information; a thing quite new to me, though I have lived here so many years. We are distinguished in history, it seems, and at one time both William the Conqueror and that brave Jeanne d'Arc--"
I interrupted sharply, dropping my cigar and leaning across the table:
"How was this person dressed?"
"Monsieur, he was very much the pedestrian."
And so, for that evening, we had something to talk about besides "that other monsieur"; indeed, we found our subject so absorbing that I forgot to ask Amedee whether it was he or Jean Ferret who had prefixed the "de" to "Armand."
The cat that fell from the top of the Washington monument, and scampered off unhurt was killed by a dog at the next corner. Thus a certain painter-man, winged with canvases and easel, might have been seen to depart hurriedly from a poppy-sprinkled field, an infuriated Norman stallion in close attendance, and to fly safely over a stone wall of good height, only to turn his ankle upon an unconsidered pebble, some ten paces farther on; the nose of the stallion projected over the wall, snorting joy thereat. The ankle was one which had turned aforetime; it was an old weakness: moreover, it was mine. I was the painter-man.
I could count on little less than a week of idleness within the confines of Les Trois Pigeons; and reclining among cushions in a wicker long- chair looking out from my pavilion upon the drowsy garden on a hot noontide, I did not much care. It was cooler indoors, comfortable enough; the open door framed the courtyard where pigeons were strutting on the gravel walks between flower-beds. Beyond, and thrown deeper into the perspective by the outer frame of the great archway, road and fields and forest fringes were revealed, lying tremulously in the hot sunshine. The foreground gained a human (though not lively) interest from the ample figure of our maitre d'hotel reposing in a rustic chair which had enjoyed the shade of an arbour about an hour earlier, when first occupied, but now stood in the broiling sun. At times Amedee's upper eyelids lifted as much as the sixteenth of an inch, and he made a hazy gesture as if to wave the sun away, or, when the table-cloth upon his left arm slid slowly earthward, he adjusted it with a petulant jerk, without material interruption to his siesta. Meanwhile Glouglou, rolling and smoking cigarettes in the shade of a clump of lilac, watched with button eyes the noddings of his superior, and, at the cost of some convulsive writhings, constrained himself to silent laughter.
A heavy step crunched the gravel and I heard my name pronounced in a deep inquiring rumble--the voice of Professor Keredec, no less. Nor was I greatly surprised, since our meeting in the forest had led me to expect some advances on his part toward friendliness, or, at least, in the direction of a better acquaintance. However, I withheld my reply for a moment to make sure I had heard aright.
The name was repeated.
"Here I am," I called, "in the pavilion, if you wish to see me."
"Aha! I hear you become an invalid, my dear sir." With that the professor's great bulk loomed in the doorway against the glare outside. "I have come to condole with you, if you allow it."
"To smoke with me, too, I hope," I said, not a little pleased.
"That I will do," he returned, and came in slowly, walking with perceptible lameness. "The sympathy I offer is genuine: it is not only from the heart, it is from the latissimus dorsi" he continued, seating himself with a cavernous groan. "I am your confrere in illness, my dear sir. I have choosed this fine weather for rheumatism of the back."
"I hope it is not painful."
"Ha, it is so-so," he rumbled, removing his spectacles and wiping his eyes, dazzled by the sun. "There is more of me than of most men--more to suffer. Nature was generous to the little germs when she made this big Keredec; she offered them room for their campaigns of war."
"You'll take a cigarette?"
"I thank you; if you do not mind, I smoke my pipe."
He took from his pocket a worn leather case, which he opened, disclosing a small, browned clay bowl of the kind workmen use; and, fitting it with a red stem, he filled it with a dark and sinister tobacco from a pouch. "Always my pipe for me," he said, and applied a match, inhaling the smoke as other men inhale the light smoke of cigarettes. "Ha, it is good! It is wicked for the insides, but it is good for the soul." And clouds wreathed his great beard like a storm on Mont Blanc as he concluded, with gusto, "It is my first pipe since yesterday."
"That is being a good smoker," I ventured sententiously; "to whet indulgence with abstinence."
"My dear sir," he protested, "I am a man without even enough virtue to be an epicure. When I am alone I am a chimney with no hebdomadary repose; I smoke forever. It is on account of my young friend I am temperate now."
"He has never smoked, your young friend?" I asked, glancing at my visitor rather curiously, I fear.
"Mr. Saffren has no vices." Professor Keredec replaced his silver-rimmed spectacles and turned them upon me with serene benevolence. "He is in good condition, all pure, like little children--and so if I smoke near him he chokes and has water at the eyes, though he does not complain. Just now I take a vacation: it is his hour for study, but I think he looks more out of the front window than at his book. He looks very much from the window"--there was a muttering of subterranean thunder somewhere, which I was able to locate in the professor's torso, and took to be his expression of a chuckle--"yes, very much, since the passing of that charming lady some days ago."
"You say your young friend's name is Saffren?"
"Oliver Saffren." The benevolent gaze continued to rest upon me, but a shadow like a faint anxiety darkened the Homeric brow, and an odd notion entered my mind (without any good reason) that Professor Keredec was wondering what I thought of the name. I uttered some commonplace syllable of no moment, and there ensued a pause during which the seeming shadow upon my visitor's forehead became a reality, deepening to a look of perplexity and trouble. Finally he said abruptly: "It is about him that I have come to talk to you."
"I shall be very glad," I murmured, but he brushed the callow formality aside with a gesture of remonstrance.
"Ha, my dear sir," he cried; "but you are a man of feeling! We are both old enough to deal with more than just these little words of the mouth! It was the way you have received my poor young gentleman's excuses when he was so rude, which make me wish to talk with you on such a subject; it is why I would not have you believe Mr. Saffren and me two very suspected individuals who hide here like two bad criminals!"
"No, no," I protested hastily. "The name of Professor Keredec--"
"The name of NO man," he thundered, interrupting, "can protect his reputation when he is caught peeping from a curtain! Ha, my dear sir! I
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