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- The Guest of Quesnay - 6/37 -
"It is to be supposed that Professor Keredec and his friend are fatigued with their journey from Paris?" I began, a little later.
"Monsieur, they did not seem fatigued," said Amedee.
"But they dine in their own rooms to-night."
"Every night, monsieur. It is the order of Professor Keredec. And with their own valet-de-chambre to serve them. Eh?" He poured my coffee solemnly. "That is mysterious, to say the least, isn't it?"
"To say the very least," I agreed.
"Monsieur the professor is a man of secrets, it appears," continued Amedee. "When he wrote to Madame Brossard engaging his rooms, he instructed her to be careful that none of us should mention even his name; and to-day when he came, he spoke of his anxiety on that point."
"But you did mention it."
"To whom, monsieur?" asked the old fellow blankly.
"But I told him I had not," said Amedee placidly. "It is the same thing."
"I wonder," I began, struck by a sudden thought, "if it will prove quite the same thing in my own case. I suppose you have not mentioned the circumstance of my being here to your friend, Jean Ferret of Quesnay?"
He looked at me reproachfully. "Has monsieur been troubled by the people of the chateau?"
"'Troubled' by them?"
"Have they come to seek out monsieur and disturb him? Have they done anything whatever to show that they have heard monsieur is here?"
"No, certainly they haven't," I was obliged to retract at once. "I beg your pardon, Amedee."
"Ah, monsieur!" He made a deprecatory bow (which plunged me still deeper in shame), struck a match, and offered a light for my cigar with a forgiving hand. "All the same," he pursued, "it seems very mysterious-- this Keredec affair!"
"To comprehend a great man, Amedee," I said, "is the next thing to sharing his greatness."
He blinked slightly, pondered a moment upon this sententious drivel, then very properly ignored it, reverting to his puzzle.
"But is it not incomprehensible that people should eat indoors this fine weather?"
I admitted that it was. I knew very well how hot and stuffy the salon of Madame Brossard's "Grande Suite" must be, while the garden was fragrant in the warm, dry night, and the outdoor air like a gentle tonic. Nevertheless, Professor Keredec and his friend preferred the salon.
When a man is leading a very quiet and isolated life, it is inconceivable what trifles will occupy and concentrate his attention. The smaller the community the more blowzy with gossip you are sure to find it; and I have little doubt that when Friday learned enough English, one of the first things Crusoe did was to tell him some scandal about the goat. Thus, though I treated the "Keredec affair" with a seeming airiness to Amedee, I cunningly drew the faithful rascal out, and fed my curiosity upon his own (which, as time went on and the mystery deepened, seemed likely to burst him), until, virtually, I was receiving, every evening at dinner, a detailed report of the day's doings of Professor Keredec and his companion.
The reports were voluminous, the details few. The two gentlemen, as Amedee would relate, spent their forenoons over books and writing in their rooms. Professor Keredec's voice could often be heard in every part of the inn; at times holding forth with such protracted vehemence that only one explanation would suffice: the learned man was delivering a lecture to his companion.
"Say then!" exclaimed Amedee--"what king of madness is that? To make orations for only one auditor!"
He brushed away my suggestion that the auditor might be a stenographer to whom the professor was dictating chapters for a new book. The relation between the two men, he contended, was more like that between teacher and pupil. "But a pupil with gray hair!" he finished, raising his fat hands to heaven. "For that other monsieur has hair as gray as mine."
"That other monsieur" was farther described as a thin man, handsome, but with a "singular air," nor could my colleague more satisfactorily define this air, though he made a racking struggle to do so.
"In what does the peculiarity of his manner lie?" I asked.
"But it is not so much that his manner is peculiar, monsieur; it is an air about him that is singular. Truly!"
"But how is it singular?"
"Monsieur, it is very, very singular."
"You do not understand," I insisted. "What kind of singularity has the air of 'that other monsieur'?"
"It has," replied Amedee, with a powerful effort, "a very singular singularity."
This was as near as he could come, and, fearful of injuring him, I abandoned that phase of our subject.
The valet-de-chambre whom my fellow-lodgers had brought with them from Paris contributed nothing to the inn's knowledge of his masters, I learned. This struck me not only as odd, but unique, for French servants tell one another everything, and more--very much more. "But this is a silent man," said Amedee impressively. "Oh! very silent! He shakes his head wisely, yet he will not open his mouth. However, that may be because"--and now the explanation came--"because he was engaged only last week and knows nothing. Also, he is but temporary; he returns to Paris soon and Glouglou is to serve them."
I ascertained that although "that other monsieur" had gray hair, he was by no means a person of great age; indeed, Glouglou, who had seen him oftener than any other of the staff, maintained that he was quite young. Amedee's own opportunities for observation had been limited. Every afternoon the two gentlemen went for a walk; but they always came down from the gallery so quickly, he declared, and, leaving the inn by a rear entrance, plunged so hastily into the nearest by-path leading to the forest, that he caught little more than glimpses of them. They returned after an hour or so, entering the inn with the same appearance of haste to be out of sight, the professor always talking, "with the manner of an orator, but in English." Nevertheless, Amedee remarked, it was certain that Professor Keredec's friend was neither an American nor an Englishman. "Why is it certain?" I asked.
"Monsieur, he drinks nothing but water, he does not smoke, and Glouglou says he speaks very pure French."
"Glouglou is an authority who resolves the difficulty. 'That other monsieur' is a Frenchman."
"But, monsieur, he is smooth-shaven."
"Perhaps he has been a maitre d'hotel."
"Eh! I wish one that _I_ know could hope to dress as well when he retires! Besides, Glouglou says that other monsieur eats his soup silently."
"I can find no flaw in the deduction," I said, rising to go to bed. "We must leave it there for to-night."
The next evening Amedee allowed me to perceive that he was concealing something under his arm as he stoked the coffee-machine, and upon my asking what it was, he glanced round the courtyard with histrionic slyness, placed the object on the table beside my cap, and stepped back to watch the impression, his manner that of one who declaims: "At last the missing papers are before you!"
"What is that?" I said.
"It is a book."
"I am persuaded by your candour, Amedee, as well as by the general appearance of this article," I returned as I picked it up, "that you are speaking the truth. But why do you bring it to me?"
"Monsieur," he replied, in the tones of an old conspirator, "this afternoon the professor and that other monsieur went as usual to walk in the forest." He bent over me, pretending to be busy with the coffee- machine, and lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper. "When they returned, this book fell from the pocket of that other monsieur's coat as he ascended the stair, and he did not notice. Later I shall return it by Glouglou, but I thought it wise that monsieur should see it for himself."
The book was Wentworth's Algebra--elementary principles. Painful recollections of my boyhood and the binomial theorem rose in my mind as I let the leaves turn under my fingers. "What do you make of it?" I asked.
His tone became even more confidential. "Part of it, monsieur, is in English; that is plain. I have found an English word in it that I know-- the word 'O.' But much of the printing is also in Arabic."
"Arabic!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, monsieur, look there." He laid a fat forefinger on "(a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2." "That is Arabic. Old Gaston has been to Algeria, and he says that he knows Arabic as well as he does French. He looked at the book and told me it was Arabic. Truly! Truly!"
"Did he translate any of it for you?"
"No, monsieur; his eyes pained him this afternoon. He says he will read it to-morrow."
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