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- The Guest of Quesnay - 9/37 -
discovery that I had absent-mindedly squeezed upon my palette the entire contents of an expensive tube of cobalt violet, for which I had no present use; and sighing (for, of necessity, I am an economical man), I postponed both of my problems till another day, determined to efface the one with a palette knife and a rag soaked in turpentine, and to defer the other until I should know more of my fellow-lodgers at Madame Brossard's.
The turpentine rag at least proved effective; I scoured away the last tokens of my failure with it, wishing that life were like the canvas and that men had knowledge of the right celestial turpentine. After that I cleaned my brushes, packed and shouldered my kit, and, with a final imprecation upon all sausage-sandwiches, took up my way once more to Les Trois Pigeons.
Presently I came upon an intersecting path where, on my previous excursions, I had always borne to the right; but this evening, thinking to discover a shorter cut, I went straight ahead. Striding along at a good gait and chanting sonorously, "On Linden when the sun was low," I left the rougher boscages of the forest behind me and emerged, just at sunset, upon an orderly fringe of woodland where the ground was neat and unencumbered, and the trimmed trees stood at polite distances, bowing slightly to one another with small, well-bred rustlings.
The light was somewhere between gold and pink when I came into this lady's boudoir of a grove. "Isar flowing rapidly" ceased its tumult abruptly, and Linden saw no sterner sight that evening: my voice and my feet stopped simultaneously--for I stood upon Quesnay ground.
Before me stretched a short broad avenue of turf, leading to the chateau gates. These stood open, a gravelled driveway climbing thence by easy stages between kempt shrubberies to the crest of the hill, where the gray roof and red chimney-pots of the chateau were glimpsed among the tree-tops. The slope was terraced with strips of flower-gardens and intervals of sward; and against the green of a rising lawn I marked the figure of a woman, pausing to bend over some flowering bush. The figure was too slender to be mistaken for that of the present chatelaine of Quesnay: in Miss Elizabeth's regal amplitude there was never any hint of fragility. The lady upon the slope, then, I concluded, must be Madame d'Armand, the inspiration of Amedee's "Monsieur has much to live for!"
Once more this day I indorsed that worthy man's opinion, for, though I was too far distant to see clearly, I knew that roses trimmed Madame d'Armand's white hat, and that she had passed me, no long time since, in the forest.
I took off my cap.
"I have the honour to salute you," I said aloud. "I make my apologies for misbehaving with sandwiches and camp-stools in your presence, Madame d'Armand."
Something in my own pronunciation of her name struck me as reminiscent: save for the prefix, it had sounded like "Harman," as a Frenchman might pronounce it.
Foreign names involve the French in terrible difficulties. Hughes, an English friend of mine, has lived in France some five-and-thirty years without reconciling himself to being known as "Monsieur Ig."
"Armand" might easily be Jean Ferret's translation of "Harman." Had he and Amedee in their admiration conferred the prefix because they considered it a plausible accompaniment to the lady's gentle bearing? It was not impossible; it was, I concluded, very probable.
I had come far out of my way, so I retraced my steps to the intersection of the paths, and thence made for the inn by my accustomed route. The light failed under the roofing of foliage long before I was free of the woods, and I emerged upon the road to Les Trois Pigeons when twilight had turned to dusk.
Not far along the road from where I came into it, stood an old, brown, deep-thatched cottage--a branch of brushwood over the door prettily beckoning travellers to the knowledge that cider was here for the thirsty; and as I drew near I perceived that one availed himself of the invitation. A group stood about the open door, the lamp-light from within disclosing the head of the house filling a cup for the wayfarer; while honest Mere Baudry and two generations of younger Baudrys clustered to miss no word of the interchange of courtesies between Pere Baudry and his chance patron.
It afforded me some surprise to observe that the latter was a most mundane and elaborate wayfarer, indeed; a small young man very lightly made, like a jockey, and point-device in khaki, puttees, pongee cap, white-and-green stock, a knapsack on his back, and a bamboo stick under his arm; altogether equipped to such a high point of pedestrianism that a cynical person might have been reminded of loud calls for wine at some hostelry in the land of opera bouffe. He was speaking fluently, though with a detestable accent, in a rough-and-ready, pick-up dialect of Parisian slang, evidently under the pleasant delusion that he employed the French language, while Pere Baudry contributed his share of the conversation in a slow patois. As both men spoke at the same time and neither understood two consecutive words the other said, it struck me that the dialogue might prove unproductive of any highly important results this side of Michaelmas; therefore, discovering that the very pedestrian gentleman was making some sort of inquiry concerning Les Trois Pigeons, I came to a halt and proffered aid.
"Are you looking for Madame Brossard's?" I asked in English.
The traveller uttered an exclamation and faced about with a jump, birdlike for quickness. He did not reply to my question with the same promptness; however, his deliberation denoted scrutiny, not sloth. He stood peering at me sharply until I repeated it. Even then he protracted his examination of me, a favour I was unable to return with any interest, owing to the circumstance of his back being toward the light. Nevertheless, I got a clear enough impression of his alert, well-poised little figure, and of a hatchety little face, and a pair of shrewd little eyes, which (I thought) held a fine little conceit of his whole little person. It was a type of fellow-countryman not altogether unknown about certain "American Bars" of Paris, and usually connected (more or less directly) with what is known to the people of France as "le Sport."
"Say," he responded in a voice of unpleasant nasality, finally deciding upon speech, "you're 'Nummeric'n, ain't you?"
"Yes," I returned. "I thought I heard you inquiring for--"
"Well, m' friend, you can sting me!" he interrupted with condescending jocularity. "My style French does f'r them camels up in Paris all right. ME at Nice, Monte Carlo, Chantilly--bow to the p'fess'r; he's RIGHT! But down here I don't seem to be GUD enough f'r these sheep-dogs; anyway they bark different. I'm lukkin' fer a hotel called Les Trois Pigeons."
"I am going there," I said; "I will show you the way."
"Whur is't?" he asked, not moving.
I pointed to the lights of the inn, flickering across the fields. "Yonder--beyond the second turn of the road," I said, and, as he showed no signs of accompanying me, I added, "I am rather late."
"Oh, I ain't goin' there t'night. It's too dark t' see anything now," he remarked, to my astonishment. "Dives and the choo-choo back t' little ole Trouville f'r mine! I on'y wanted to take a LUK at this pigeon-house joint."
"Do you mind my inquiring," I said, "what you expected to see at Les Trois Pigeons?"
"Why!" he exclaimed, as if astonished at the question, "I'm a tourist. Makin' a pedestrun trip t' all the reg'ler sights." And, inspired to eloquence, he added, as an afterthought: "As it were."
"A tourist?" I echoed, with perfect incredulity.
"That's whut I am, m' friend," he returned firmly. "You don't have to have a red dope-book in one hand and a thoid-class choo-choo ticket in the other to be a tourist, do you?"
"But if you will pardon me," I said, "where did you get the notion that Les Trois Pigeons is one of the regular sights?"
"Ain't it in all the books?"
"I don't think that it is mentioned in any of the guide-books."
"NO! I didn't say it WAS, m' friend," he retorted with contemptuous pity. "I mean them history-books. It's in all o' THEM!"
"This is strange news," said I. "I should be very much interested to read them!"
"Lookahere," he said, taking a step nearer me; "in oinest now, on your woid: Didn' more'n half them Jeanne d'Arc tamales live at that hotel wunst?"
"Nobody of historical importance--or any other kind of importance, so far as I know--ever lived there," I informed him. "The older portions of the inn once belonged to an ancient farm-house, that is all."
"On the level," he demanded, "didn't that William the Conker nor NONE o' them ancient gilt-edges live there?"
"Stung again!" He broke into a sudden loud cackle of laughter. "Why! the feller tole me 'at this here Pigeon place was all three rings when it come t' history. Yessir! Tall, thin feller he was, in a three-button cutaway, English make, and kind of red-complected, with a sandy MUS- tache," pursued the pedestrian, apparently fearing his narrative might lack colour. "I met him right comin' out o' the Casino at Trouville, yes'day aft'noon; c'udn' a' b'en more'n four o'clock--hol' on though, yes 'twas, 'twas nearer five, about twunty minutes t' five, say--an' this feller tells me--" He cackled with laughter as palpably disingenuous as the corroborative details he thought necessary to muster, then he became serious, as if marvelling at his own wondrous verdancy. "M' friend, that feller soitn'y found me easy. But he can't say I ain't game; he passes me the limes, but I'm jest man enough to drink his health fer it in this sweet, sound ole-fashioned cider 'at ain't got a headache in a barrel of it. He played me GUD, and here's TO him!"
Despite the heartiness of the sentiment, my honest tourist's enthusiasm seemed largely histrionic, and his quaffing of the beaker too reminiscent of drain-the-wine-cup-free in the second row of the chorus, for he absently allowed it to dangle from his hand before raising it to his lips. However, not all of its contents was spilled, and he swallowed a mouthful of the sweet, sound, old-fashioned cider--but by mistake, I was led to suppose, from the expression of displeasure which became so
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