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- The Lion and the Mouse - 10/50 -
Jefferson told her was absinthe.
"When do they read?" she asked. "When do they attend lectures?"
"Oh," laughed Jefferson, "only the old-fashioned students take their studies seriously. Most of the men you see there are from the provinces, seeing Paris for the first time, and having their fling. Incidentally they are studying life. When they have sown their wild oats and learned all about life--provided they are still alive and have any money left--they will begin to study books. You would be surprised to know how many of these young men, who have been sent to the University at a cost of goodness knows what sacrifices, return to their native towns in a few months wrecked in body and mind, without having once set foot in a lecture room, and, in fact, having done nothing except inscribe their names on the rolls."
Shirley was glad she knew no such men, and if she ever married and had a son she would pray God to spare her that grief and humiliation. She herself knew something about the sacrifices parents make to secure a college education for their children. Her father had sent her to Vassar. She was a product of the much- sneered-at higher education for women, and all her life she would be grateful for the advantages given her. Her liberal education had broadened her outlook on life and enabled her to accomplish the little she had. When she graduated her father had left her free to follow her own inclinations. She had little taste for social distractions, and still she could not remain idle. For a time she thought of teaching to occupy her mind, but she knew she lacked the necessary patience, and she could not endure the drudgery of it, so, having won honors at college in English composition, she determined to try her hand at literature. She wrote a number of essays and articles on a hundred different subjects which she sent to the magazines, but they all came back with politely worded excuses for their rejection. But Shirley kept right on. She knew she wrote well; it must be that her subjects were not suitable. So she adopted new tactics, and persevered until one day came a letter of acceptance from the editor of one of the minor magazines. They would take the article offered--a sketch of college life--and as many more in similar vein as Miss Rossmore could write. This success had been followed by other acceptances and other commissions, until at the present time she was a well-known writer for the leading publications. Her great ambition had been to write a book, and "The American Octopus," published under an assumed name, was the result.
The cab stopped suddenly in front of beautiful gilded gates. It was the Luxembourg, and through the tall railings they caught a glimpse of well-kept lawns, splashing fountains and richly dressed children playing. From the distance came the stirring strains of a brass band.
The coachman drove up to the curb and Jefferson jumped down, assisting Shirley to alight. In spite of Shirley's protest Jefferson insisted on paying.
"Combien?" he asked the cocher.
The jehu, a surly, thick-set man with a red face and small, cunning eyes like a ferret, had already sized up his fares for two sacre foreigners whom it would be flying in the face of Providence not to cheat, so with unblushing effrontery he answered:
"Dix francs, Monsieur!" And he held up ten fingers by way of illustration.
Jefferson was about to hand up a ten-franc piece when Shirley indignantly interfered. She would not submit to such an imposition. There was a regular tariff and she would pay that and nothing more. So, in better French than was at Jefferson's command, she exclaimed:
"Ten francs? Pourquoi dix francs? I took your cab by the hour. It is exactly two hours. That makes four francs." Then to Jefferson she added: "Give him a franc for a pourboire--that makes five francs altogether."
Jefferson, obedient to her superior wisdom, held out a five-franc piece, but the driver shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. He saw that the moment had come to bluster so he descended from his box fully prepared to carry out his bluff. He started in to abuse the two Americans whom in his ignorance he took for English.
"Ah, you sale Anglais! You come to France to cheat the poor Frenchman. You make me work all afternoon and then pay me nothing. Not with this coco! I know my rights and I'll get them, too."
All this was hurled at them in a patois French, almost unintelligible to Shirley, and wholly so to Jefferson. All he knew was that the fellow's attitude was becoming unbearably insolent and he stepped forward with a gleam in his eye that might have startled the man had he not been so busy shaking his fist at Shirley. But she saw Jefferson's movement and laid her hand on his arm.
"No, no, Mr. Ryder--no scandal, please. Look, people are beginning to come up! Leave him to me. I know how to manage him."
With this the daughter of a United States Supreme Court judge proceeded to lay down the law to the representative of the most lazy and irresponsible class of men ever let loose in the streets of a civilised community. Speaking with an air of authority, she said:
"Now look here, my man, we have no time to bandy words here with you. I took your cab at 3.30. It is now 5.30. That makes two hours. The rate is two francs an hour, or four francs in all. We offer you five francs, and this includes a franc pourboire. If this settlement does not suit you we will get into your cab and you will drive us to the nearest police-station where the argument can be continued."
The man's jaw dropped. He was obviously outclassed. These foreigners knew the law as well as he did. He had no desire to accept Shirley's suggestion of a trip to the police-station, where he knew he would get little sympathy, so, grumbling and giving vent under his breath to a volley of strange oaths, he grabbed viciously at the five-franc piece Jefferson held out and, mounting his box, drove off.
Proud of their victory, they entered the gardens, following the sweet-scented paths until they came to where the music was. The band of an infantry regiment was playing, and a large crowd had gathered. Many people were sitting on the chairs provided for visitors for the modest fee of two sous; others were promenading round and round a great circle having the musicians in its centre. The dense foliage of the trees overhead afforded a perfect shelter from the hot rays of the sun, and the place was so inviting and interesting, so cool and so full of sweet perfumes and sounds, appealing to and satisfying the senses, that Shirley wished they had more time to spend there. She was very fond of a good brass band, especially when heard in the open air. They were playing Strauss's Blue Danube, and the familiar strains of the delightful waltz were so infectious that both were seized by a desire to get up and dance.
There was constant amusement, too, watching the crowd, with its many original and curious types. There were serious college professors, with gold-rimmed spectacles, buxom nounous in their uniform cloaks and long ribbon streamers, nicely dressed children romping merrily but not noisily, more queer-looking students in shabby frock coats, tight at the waist, trousers too short, and comical hats, stylishly dressed women displaying the latest fashions, brilliantly uniformed army officers strutting proudly, dangling their swords--an attractive and interesting crowd, so different, thought the two Americans, from the cheap, evil- smelling, ill-mannered mob of aliens that invades their own Central Park the days when there is music, making it a nuisance instead of a pleasure. Here everyone belonged apparently to the better class; the women and children were richly and fashionably dressed, the officers looked smart in their multi-coloured uniforms, and, no matter how one might laugh at the students, there was an atmosphere of good-breeding and refinement everywhere which Shirley was not accustomed to see in public places at home. A sprinkling of workmen and people of the poorer class were to be seen here and there, but they were in the decided minority. Shirley, herself a daughter of the Revolution, was a staunch supporter of the immortal principles of Democracy and of the equality of man before the law. But all other talk of equality was the greatest sophistry and charlatanism. There could be no real equality so long as some people were cultured and refined and others were uneducated and vulgar. Shirley believed in an aristocracy of brains and soap. She insisted that no clean person, no matter how good a democrat, should be expected to sit close in public places to persons who were not on speaking terms with the bath-tub. In America this foolish theory of a democracy, which insists on throwing all classes, the clean and the unclean, promiscuously together, was positively revolting, making travelling in the public vehicles almost impossible, and it was not much better in the public parks. In France--also a Republic-- where they likewise paraded conspicuously the clap-trap "Egalite, Fraternite," they managed these things far better. The French lower classes knew their place. They did not ape the dress, nor frequent the resorts of those above them in the social scale. The distinction between the classes was plainly and properly marked, yet this was not antagonistic to the ideal of true democracy; it had not prevented the son of a peasant from becoming President of the French Republic. Each district in Paris had its own amusement, its own theatres, its own parks. It was not a question of capital refusing to fraternize with labour, but the very natural desire of persons of refinement to mingle with clean people rather than to rub elbows with the Great Unwashed.
"Isn't it delightful here?" said Shirley. "I could stay here forever, couldn't you?"
"With you--yes," answered Jefferson, with a significant smile.
Shirley tried to look angry. She strictly discouraged these conventional, sentimental speeches which constantly flung her sex in her face.
"Now, you know I don't like you to talk that way, Mr. Ryder. It's most undignified. Please be sensible."
Quite subdued, Jefferson relapsed into a sulky silence. Presently he said:
"I wish you wouldn't call me Mr. Ryder. I meant to ask you this before. You know very well that you've no great love for the name,
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