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- The Guest of Quesnay - 4/37 -
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
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