The Beloved Vagabond by William J. Locke
THIS is not a story about myself. Like Canning's organ-grinder I
have none to tell. It is the story of Paragot, the belovéd
vagabondplease pronounce his name French-fashionand if I obtrude
myself on your notice it is because I was so much involved in the
medley of farce and tragedy which made up some years of his life, that
I don't know how to tell the story otherwise. To Paragot I owe
everything. He is at once my benefactor, my venerated master, my
beloved friend, my creator. Clay in his hands, he moulded me according
to his caprice, and inspired me with the breath of life. My existence
is drenched with the colour of Paragot. I lay claim to no personality
of my own, and any obiter dicta that may fall from my pen in the
course of the ensuing narrative are but reflections of Paragot's
philosophy. Men have spoken evil of him. He snapped his fingers at
calumny, but I winced, never having reached the calm altitudes of scorn
wherein his soul has its habitation. I burned to defend him, and I burn
now; and that is why I propose to write his apologia, his
Why he singled me out for adoption from among the unwashed urchins
of London I never could conjecture. Once I asked him.
Because, said he, you were ugly, dirty, ricketty, under-sized,
underfed and wholly uninteresting. Also because your mother was the
very worst washer-woman that ever breathed gin into a shirt-front.
I did not resent these charges, direct and implied, against my
mother. She did launder villainously, and she did drink gin, and of the
nine uncared-for gutter-snipes she brought into the world, I think I
was the most unkempt and neglected. I know that Sunday-school books
tell you to love your mother; but if the only maternal caresses you
could remember were administered by means of a wet pair of woollen
drawers or the edge of a hot flat-iron, you would find filial piety a
virtue somewhat abstract. Verily do earwigs care more for their progeny
than did my mother. She sold me body and soul to Paragot for
It fell out thus.
One morning, laden with histechnically speakingclean linen, I
knocked at the door of Paragot's chambers. He called them chambers, for
he was nothing if not grandiloquent, but really they consisted in an
attic in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, above the curious club over
which he presided. I knocked, then, at the door. A sonorous voice bade
me enter. Paragot lay in bed, smoking a huge pipe with a porcelain bowl
and reading a book. The fact of one individual having a room all to
himself impressed me so greatly with a sense of luxury, refinement and
power, that I neglected to observe its pitifulness and squalor. Nor of
Paragot's personal appearance was I critical. He had long black hair,
and a long black beard, and long black finger-nails. The last were so
long and commanding that I thought ashamedly of my own bitten
fingertips, and vowed that when I too became a great man, able to smoke
a porcelain pipe of mornings in my own room, my nails should equal his
I have brought the washing, Sir, I announced, and, please, Sir,
mother says I'm not to let you have it unless you settle up for the
last three weeks.
I had a transient vision of swarthy, hairy legs, as Paragot leaped
out of bed. He stood over me, man of all the luxuries that he was, in
his nightshirt. Fancy having a shirt for the day and a shirt for the
Do you mean that you will dispute possession of it with me, vi
Yes, Sir, said I, confused.
He laughed, clapped me on the shoulder, called me David, Jack the
Giant-Killer, and bade me deliver the washing-book. I fumbled in the
pocket of my torn jacket and handed him a greasy, dog's-eared mass of
paper. As soon as his eyes fell on it, I realised my mistake, and
produced the washing book from the other pocket.
I've given you the wrong one, Sir, said I, reaching for the
treasure I had surrendered.
But he threw himself on his bed and dived his legs beneath the
Wonderful! he cried. He is four foot nothing, he looks like a
yard of pack-thread, he would fight me for an ill-washed shirt and a
pair of holes with bits of sock round them, and he reads 'Paradise
He made a gesture of throwing the disreputable epic at my head, and
I curved my arm in an attitude only too familiarly defensive.
I found it in a bundle of washing, Sir, I cried apologetically.
At home reading was the unforgivable sin. Had my mother discovered
me poring over the half intelligible but wholly fascinating story of
Adam and Eve and the Devil, she would have beaten me with the first
implement to her hand. I had a moment's terror lest the possession of a
work of literature should be so horrible a crime that even Paragot
would chastise me.
To my consternation he thrust the tattered thingit was an
antiquated sixpenny editionunder my nose and commanded me to read.
'Of Man's first disobedience'Go on. If you can read it
intelligently I'll pay your mother. If you can't I'll write to her
politely to say that I resent having my washing sent home by persons of
I began in great fear, but having, I suppose, an instinctive
appreciation of letters, I mouthed the rolling lines not too brokenly.
What's a Heavenly Muse? asked Paragot, as soon as I paused. I had
not the faintest idea.
Do you think it's a Paradisiacal back yard where they keep the
Horse of the Apocalypse?
I caught a twinkle in the blue eyes which he bent fiercely upon me.
If you please, Sir, said I, I think it is the Bird of Paradise.
Then we both laughed; and Paragot bidding me sit on the wreck of a
cane-bottomed chair, gave me my first lesson in Greek Mythology. He
talked for nearly an hour, and I, ragged urchin of the London streets,
my wits sharpened by hunger and ill-usage, sat spell-bound on my
comfortless perch, while he unfolded the tale of Gods and Goddesses,
and unveiled Olympus before my enraptured vision.
Boy, said he suddenly, can you cook a herring?
I came down to earth with a bang. Stunned I stared at him. I
distinctly remember wondering where I was.
Can you cook a herring? he shouted.
Yes, Sir, I cried, jumping to my feet.
Then cook twoone for you and one for me. You'll find them
somewhere about the room, also tea and bread and butter and a
gas-stove, and when all is ready let me know.
He settled himself comfortably in bed and went on reading his book.
It was Hegel's Philosophy of History. I tried to read it afterwards and
found that it passed my understanding.
In a confused dream of gods and herrings, I set about my task.
Heaven only knows how I managed to succeed. In my childish imagination
Jupiter was clothed in the hirsute majesty of Paragot.
And I was to breakfast with him!
The herrings and a half-smoked pipe shared a plate on the top of the
ricketty chest of drawers. I had to blow the ash off the fish. A paper
of tea and a loaf of bread I found in a higgledy-piggledy mixture of
clothes, books and papers. My godlike friend had carelessly put his
hair-brush into the butter. The condition of the sole cooking utensil
warred even against my sense of the fitness of gridirons, and I
cleansed it with his towel.
Since then I have breakfasted in the houses of the wealthy, I have
lunched at the Café Anglais, I have dined at the Savoy but never have I
eaten, never till they give me a welcoming banquet in the Elysian
fields, shall I eat so ambrosial a meal as that first herring with
When I had set it on the little deal table, he deigned to remember
my existence, and closing his book, rose, donned a pair of trousers and
sat down. He gave me my first lesson in table-manners.
Boy, said he, if you wish to adorn the high social spheres for
which you are destined, you must learn the value of convention. Bread
and cheese-straws and asparagus and the leaves of an artichoke are
eaten with the fingers; but not herrings or sweetbreads or ice cream.
As regards the last you are doubtless in the habit of extracting it
from a disappointing wine-glass with your tongue. This in notre
monde is regarded as bad form. 'Notre Monde' is French, a
language which you will have to learn. Its great use is in talking to
English people when you don't want them to understand what you say.
They pretend they do, for they are too vain to admit their ignorance.
The wise man profits by the vanity of his fellow-creatures. If I were
not wise after this manner, should I be here eating herrings in
Tavistock Street, Covent Garden?
I was too full of food and adoration to reply. I gazed at him dumbly
worshipping and choked over a cup of tea. When I recovered he
questioned me as to my home life, my schooling, my ideas of a future
state and my notions of a career in this world. The height of my then
ambition was to keep a fried-fish shop. The restaurateur with whom my
good mother dealt used to sit for hours in his doorway in Drury Lane
reading a book, and I considered this a most dignified and scholarly
avocation. When I made this naïve avowal to Paragot, he looked at me
with a queer pity in his eyes, and muttered an exclamation in a foreign
tongue. I have never met anyone so full of strange oaths as Paragot. As
to my religious convictions, they were chiefly limited to a terrifying
conception of the hell to which my mother daily consigned me. In
devils, fires, chains and pitchforks its establishment was as complete
as any inferno depicted by Orcagna. I used to wake up of nights
in a cold sweat through dreaming of it.
My son, said Paragot, the most eminent divines of the Church of
England will tell you that a material hell with consuming flames is an
exploded fallacy. I can tell you the same without being an eminent
divine. The wicked carry their own hell about with them during
lifehere, somewhere between the gullet and the pit of the stomach,
and it prevents their enjoyment of herrings which smell vilely of gas.
There ain't no devils, then? I asked.
Sacré mille diables, No! he shouted. Haven't I been
exhausting myself with telling you so?
I said little, but to this day I remember the thrilling sense of
deliverance from a horror which had gone far to crush the little
childish joy allowed me by circumstance. There was no fiery hell, no
red-hot pincers, no eternal frizzling and sizzling of the flesh, like
unto that of the fish in Mr. Samuel's fish-shop. Paragot had
transformed me by a word into a happy young pagan. My eyes swam as I
swallowed my last bit of bread and butter.
What is your name? asked Paragot.
Smith, I murmured. Same as mother's.
I was forgetting, said he. Now if there is one name I dislike
more than Smith it is Augustus. I have been thinking of a very nice
name for you. It is Asticot. It expresses you better than Augustus
It is a very good name, Sir, said I politely.
I learned soon after that it is a French word meaning the little
grey worms which fishermen call gentles, and that it was not such a
complimentary appellation as I had imagined; but Asticot I became, and
Asticot I remained for many a year.
Wash up the things, my little Asticot, said he, and afterwards we
will discuss future arrangements.
According to his directions I took the tray down to a kind of
scullery on the floor below. The wet plates and cups I dried on a
greasy rag which I found lying on the sink; and this seemed to me a
refinement of luxurious living; for at home, when we did wash plates,
we merely held them under the tap till the remains of food ran off, and
we never thought of drying them. When I returned to the bedroom Paragot
was dressed for the day. His long lean wrists and hands protruded far
through the sleeves of an old brown jacket. He wore a grey flannel
shirt and an old bit of black ribbon done up in a bow by way of a tie;
his slouch hat, once black, was now green with age, and his boots were
innocent of blacking. But my eyes were dazzled by a heavy gold watch
chain across his waistcoat and I thought him the most glorious of
My little Asticot, said he, would you like to forsake your gentle
mother's wash-tub and your dreams of a fried-fish shop and enter my
service? I, the heir of all the ages, am driven by Destiny to running
The Lotus Club downstairs. We call it 'Lotus' because we eat tripe to
banish memory. The members meet together in order to eat tripe, drink
beer and hear me talk. You can eat tripe and hear me talk too, and that
will improve both your mind and your body. While Cherubino, the waiter,
teaches you how to be a scullion, I will instruct you in philosophy.
The sofa in the Club will make an excellent bed for you, and your wages
will be eighteen pence a week.
He thrust his hands in his trouser pockets, and rattling his money
looked at me with an enquiring air. I returned his gaze for a while,
lost in a delirious wonder. I tried to speak. Something stuck in my
throat. I broke into a blubber and dried my eyes with my knuckles.
It was an intoxicated little Asticot that trotted by his side to my
mother's residence. There over gin-and-water the bargain was struck. My
mother pocketed half-a-crown and with shaky unaccustomed fingers signed
her name across a penny-stamp at the foot of a document which Paragot
had drawn up. I believe each of them was convinced that they had
executed a legal deed. My mother after inspecting me critically for a
moment wiped my nose with the piece of sacking that served as her apron
and handed me over to Paragot, who marched away with his purchase as
proud as if I had been a piece of second-hand furniture picked up
I may as well remark here that Paragot was not his real name;
neither was Josiah Henkendyke by which he was then known to me. He had
a harmless mania for names, and I have known him use half a dozen. But
that of Paragot which he assumed later as his final alias is the one
with which he is most associated in my mind, and to avoid confusion I
must call him that from the start. Indeed, looking backward down the
years, I wonder how he could ever have been anything else than Paragot.
That Phoebus Apollo could once have borne the name of John Jones is
Boy, said he, as we retraced our steps to Tavistock Street, you
are my thing, my chattel, my famulus. No slave of old belonged
more completely to a free-born citizen. You will address me as
Yes, Sir, said I.
Master! he shouted. Master or maître or maestro
or magister according to the language you are speaking. Now do
Yes, Master, said I.
He nodded approval. At the corner of a by-street he stopped short
and held me at arm's length.
You are a horrible object, my little Asticot, said he. I must
clothe you in a manner befitting the Lotus Club.
He ran me into a slop-dealer's and fitted me out in sundry garments
in which, although they were several sizes too large for me, I felt
myself clad like Solomon in all his glory. Then we went home. On the
way up to his room he paused at the scullery. A dishevelled woman was
Mrs. Housekeeper, said he, allow me to present you our new
scullion pupil. Kindly instruct him in his duties, feed him and wash
his head. Also please remember that he answers to the name of Asticot.
He swung on his heel and went downstairs humming a tune. I remained
with Mrs. Housekeeper who carried out his instructions zealously. I can
feel the soreness on my scalp to this day.
Thus it fell out that I quitted the maternal roof and entered the
service of Paragot. I never saw my mother again, as she died soon
afterwards; and as my brood of brothers and sisters vanished down the
diverse gutters of London, I found myself with Paragot for all my
family; and now that I have arrived at an age when a man can look back
dispassionately on his past, it is my pride that I can lay my hand on
my heart and avow him to be the best family that boy ever had.
THE Lotus Club was the oddest society I have met. The premises
consisted of one long dingy room with two dingy windows: the furniture
of a long table covered with dirty American cloth, a multitude of
wooden chairs, an old sofa, two dilapidated dinner-waggons, and a frame
against the wall from which, by means of clips, churchwarden pipes
depended stem downwards; and by each clip was a label bearing a name.
On the table stood an enormous jar of tobacco. A number of ill-washed
glasses decorated the dinner-waggons. There was not a curtain, not a
blind, not a picture. The further end of the room away from the door
contained a huge fireplace, and on the wooden mantelpiece ticked a
During the daytime it was an abode of abominable desolation. No one
came near it until nine o'clock in the evening, when one or two members
straggled in, took down their long pipes and called for whisky or beer,
the only alcoholic beverages the club provided. These were kept in
great barrels in the scullery, presided over by Mrs. Housekeeper until
it was time to prepare the supper, when Cherubino and I helped
ourselves. At eleven the cloth was laid. From then till half past
members came in considerable numbers. At half past supper was served. A
steaming dish of tripe furnished the head of the table in front of
Paragot, and a cut of cold beef the foot.
There were generally from fifteen to thirty present; men of all
classes: Journalists, actors, lawyers, out-at-elbows nondescripts. I
have seen one of Her Majesty's Judges and a prizefighter exchanging
views across the table. A few attended regularly; but the majority
seemed to be always new-comers. They supped, talked, smoked, and drank
whisky until two or three o'clock in the morning and appeared to enjoy
themselves prodigiously. I noticed that on departing they wrung Paragot
fervently by the hand and thanked him for their delightful evening. I
remembered his telling me that they came to hear him talk. He did talk:
sometimes so compellingly that I would stand stock-still rapt in
reverential ecstasy: once to the point of letting the potatoes I was
handing round roll off the dish on to the floor. I never was so rapt
again; for Cherubino picking up the potatoes and following my
frightened exit, broke them over my head on the landing, by way of
chastisement. The best barbers do not use hot mealy potatoes for the
When the last guest had departed, Paragot mounted to his attic, Mrs.
Housekeeper and Cherubino went their several wayseach went several
ways, I think, for they had unchecked command during the evening over
the whisky and beer barrelsand I, dragging a bundle of bedclothes
from beneath the sofa, went to bed amid the fumes of tripe, gas,
tobacco, alcohol and humanity, and slept the sleep of perfect
In the morning, at about eleven, I rose and prepared breakfast for
Paragot and myself, which we ate together in his room. For a couple of
hours he instructed me in what he was pleased to call the humanities.
Then he sent me out into the street for air and exercise, with
instructions to walk to Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's
Cathedral, Whiteley'she always had a fresh objective for meand to
bring him back my views thereon and an account of what I had noticed on
the way. When I came home I delivered myself into the hands of Mrs.
Housekeeper and turned scullion again. The plates, glasses, knives and
forks of the previous evening's orgy were washed and cleaned, the room
swept and aired, and a meal cooked for Mrs. Housekeeper and myself
which we ate at a corner of the long table. Paragot himself dined out.
On Sunday evenings the Club was shut, and as Mrs. Housekeeper did
not make her appearance on the Sabbath, the remains of Saturday night's
supper stayed on the table till Monday afternoon. Imagine remains of
tripe thirty six hours old!
I mention this, not because it is of any great interest, but because
it exhibits a certain side of Paragot's character. In those early days
I was not critical. I lived in a maze of delight. Paragot was the
Wonder of the Earth, my bedroom a palace chamber, and the abominable
Sunday night smell pervaded my senses like the perfumes of all the
My son, said Paragot one morning, in the middle of a French
lessonfrom the first he was bent on my learning the languageMy
son, I wonder whether you are going to turn out a young Caliban, and
after I have shewn you the True Divinity of Things, return to your
dam's god Setebos?
He regarded me earnestly with his light blue eyes which looked so
odd in his swarthy black-bearded face.
Is there any hope for the race of Sycorax?
As we had read The Tempest the day before, I understood the
I would sooner be Ariel, Master, said I, by way of showing off my
He was an ungrateful beggar too, said Paragot. He went on talking,
but I heard him not; for my childish mind quickly associated him with
Prospero, and I wondered where lay his magic staff with which he could
split pines and liberate tricksy spirits, and whether he had a
beautiful daughter hidden in some bower of Tavistock Street, and
whether the cadaverous Cherubino might not be a metamorphosed
Ferdinand. He appeared the embodiment of all wisdom and power, and yet
he had the air of one cheated of his kingdom. He seemed also to be of
reverential age. As a matter of fact he was not yet forty.
My attention was recalled by his rising and walking about the room.
I am making this experiment on your vile body, my little Asticot,
said he, to prove my Theory of Education. You have had, so far as it
goes, what is called an excellent Board School Training. You can read
and write and multiply sixty-four by thirty-seven in your head, and you
can repeat the Kings of England. If you had been fortunate and gone to
a Public school they would have stuffed your brain full of Greek verbs
and damned facts about triangles. But of the meaning of life, the value
of life, the art of life, you would never have had a glimmering
perception. I am going to educate you, my little Asticot, through the
imagination. The intellect can look after itself. We will go now to the
He caught up his hat and threw me my cap, and we went out. He had a
sudden, breathless way of doing things. I am sure thirty seconds had
not elapsed between the idea of the National Gallery entering his head
and our finding ourselves on the stairs.
We went to the National Gallery. I came away with a reeling
undistinguishable mass of form and colour before my eyes. I felt sick.
Only one single picture stood out clear. Paragot talked Italian art to
my uncomprehending ears all the way home.
Now, said he, when he had settled himself comfortably in his old
wicker-work chair again, which of the pictures did you like best?
Why that particular picture (save that it is the supreme art of a
supreme genius) should have alone fixed itself on my mind, I do not
know. It has been one of the psychological puzzles of my life.
A man's head, master, said I; I can't describe it, but I think I
could draw it.
Draw it? he echoed incredulously.
He pulled a stump of pencil from his pocket and threw it to me. I
felt luminously certain I could draw the head. A curious exaltation
filled me as I sat at a corner of the table before a flattened-out
piece of paper that had wrapped up tea. Paragot stood over me, as I
Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu! cried he. It is Gian Bellini's
Doge Loredano. But what made you remember that picture, and how in the
name of Board schools could you manage to draw it?
He walked swiftly up and down the room.
Nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu!
I used to draw horses and men on my slate at school, said I
Paragot filled his porcelain pipe and walked about strangely
excited. Suddenly he stopped.
My little Asticot, said he, you had better go down and help Mrs.
Housekeeper to wash up the dirty plates and dishes, for your soul's
What my soul had to do with greasy crockery I could not in the least
fathom; but the next morning Paragot gave me a drawing lesson. It would
be false modesty for me to say that I did not show talent, since the
making of pictures is the means whereby I earn my living at the present
moment. The gift once discovered, I exercised it in and out of season.
My son, said Paragot, when I showed him a sketch of Mrs.
Housekeeper as she lay on the scullery floor one Saturday night, unable
to go any one of her several ways, I am afraid you are an artist. Do
you know what an artist is?
I didn't. He pronounced the word in tones of such deep melancholy
that I felt it must denote something particularly depraved.
It is the man who has the power of doing up his soul in
whitey-brown paper parcels and selling them at three halfpence apiece.
This was at breakfast one morning while he was chipping an egg. Only
two eggs furnished forth our repast, and I was already deep in mine. He
scooped off the top of the shell, regarded it for a second and then
rose with the egg and went to the window.
Since you have wings you had better fly, said he, and he threw it
into the street.
My little Asticot, he added, resuming his seat. I myself was once
an artist: now I am a philosopher: it is much better.
He cheerfully attacked his bread and butter. Whether it was a sense
of his goodness or my own greediness that prompted me I know not, but I
pushed my half eaten egg across to him and begged him to finish it. He
looked queerly at me for a moment.
I accept it, said he, in the spirit in which it is offered.
The great man solemnly ate my egg, and pride so filled my heart that
I could scarcely swallow. A smaller man than Paragot would have
From what I gathered from conversations overheard whilst I was
serving members with tripe and alcohol, it appeared that my revered
master was a mysterious personage. About eight months before, he had
entered the then unprosperous Club for the first time as a guest of the
founder and proprietor, an old actor who was growing infirm. He talked
vehemently. The next night he took the presidential chair which he
since occupied, to the Club's greater glory. But whence he came, who
and what he was, no one seemed to know. One fat man whose air of
portentous wisdom (and insatiable appetite) caused me much annoyance,
proclaimed him a Russian Nihilist and asked me whether there were any
bombs in his bedroom. Another man declared that he had seen him leading
a bear in the streets of Warsaw. His manner offended me.
Have you ever been to Warsaw, Mr. Ulysses? asked the fat man. Mr.
Ulysses was the traditional title of the head of the Lotus Club.
This gentleman says he saw you leading a bear there, Master, I
piped, wrathfully, in my shrill treble.
There was the sudden silence of consternation. All, some five and
twenty, laid down their knives and forks and looked at Paragot, who
rose from his seat. Throwing out his right hand he declaimed:
[Greek: Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, os mala polla
plagchthê, epei Troiês Ieron ptoliethron epersen
pollôn d' anthrôpôn iden astea, kai noon egnô.]
Does anyone know what that is?
A young fellow at the end of the table said it was the opening lines
of the Odyssey.
You are right, sir, said Paragot, threading his fingers through
his long black hair. They tell of my predecessor in office, the first
President of this Club, who was a man of many wanderings and many
sufferings and had seen many cities and knew the hearts of men. I,
gentlemen, have had my Odyssey, and I have been to Warsaw, and, with a
rapier flash of a glance at the gentleman who had accused him of
leading bears, I know the miserable hearts of men. He rapped on the
table with his hammer. Asticot, come here, he shouted.
I obeyed trembling.
If ever you lift up your voice again in this assembly, I will have
you boiled and served up with onion sauce, second-hand tripe that you
are, and you shall be eaten underdone. Now go.
I felt shrivelled to the size of a pea. Beneath Paragot's
grotesqueness ran an unprecedented severity. I was conscious of the
accusing glare of every eye. In my blind bolt to the door I had the
good fortune to run headlong into a tray of drinks which Cherubino was
The disaster saved the situation. Laughter rang out loud and the
talk became general. The interlude was forgotten; but the man who said
he had seen my master leading bears in Warsaw vanished from the Club
for ever after.
The next morning when I entered Paragot's room to wake him I found
him reading in bed. He looked up from his book.
My little Asticot, said he, leading bears is better than calumny,
but indiscretion is worse than both.
And that is all I heard of the matter. I never lifted up my voice in
the Club again.
There was a curious black case on the top of a cupboard in his room
which for some time aroused my curiosity. It was like no box I had seen
before. But one afternoon Paragot took it down and extracted therefrom
a violin which after tuning he began to play. Now although fond of
music I have never been able to learn any instrument save the
tambourinemy highest success otherwise has been to finger out God
save the Queen and We won't go home till morning on the ocarinaand
to this day a person able to play the piano or the fiddle seems
possessed of an uncanny gift; but in that remote period of my fresh
rescue from the gutter, an executant appeared something superhuman. I
stared at him with stupid open mouth. He played what I afterwards
learned was one of Brahms's Hungarian dances. His lank figure and long
hair worked in unison with the music which filled the room with a wild
tumult of movement. I had not heard anything like it in my life. It set
every nerve of me dancing. I suppose Paragot found his interest in me
because I was such an impressionable youngster. When, at the abrupt
finale, he asked me what I thought of it, I could scarce stammer a
He gave me one of his queer kind looks while he tuned a string.
I still wonder, my son, whether it would not be better for your
soul that you should go on scullioning to the end of time.
Why, Master? I asked.
Sacré mille diables, he cried, do you think I am going to
give you a reason for everything? You'll learn fast enough.
He laughed and went on playing, and, as I listened, the more godlike
The streets of Paris, said he, returning the fiddle to its case,
are strewn with the wrecked souls of artists.
And not London?
My little Asticot, he replied, I am a Frenchman, and it is our
fondest illusion that no art can possibly exist out of Paris.
I discovered later that he was the son of a Gascon father and an
Irish mother, which accounted for his being absolutely bilingual and,
indeed, for many oddities of temperament. But now he proclaimed himself
a Frenchman, and for a time I was oppressed with a sense of
At the Board School I had bolted enough indigestible historical
facts to know that the English had always beaten the French, and I had
drawn the natural conclusion that the French were a vastly inferior
race of beings. It was, I verily believe, the first step in my
spiritual education to realise that the god of my idolatry suffered no
diminution of grandeur by reason of his nationality. Indeed he gained
accession, for after this he talked often to me of France in his
magniloquent way, until I began secretly to be ashamed of being
English. This had one advantage, in that I set myself with redoubled
vigour to learn his language.
So extraordinary was the veneration I had for the man who had
transplanted me from the kicks and soapsuds of my former life into this
bewildering land of Greek gods and Ariels and pictures and music; for
the man who spoke many unknown tongues, wore a gold watch chain, had
been to Warsaw and every city mentioned in my school geography, and
presided like a king over an assembly of those whom as a gutter urchin
I had been wont to designate toffs; for the beneficent being who had
provided me, Gus Smith alias Asticot, with a nightshirt, condescended
to eat half my egg and to allow me to supervise his bedchamber and
maintain it in an orderly state of disintegration, hair-brushes from
butter and tobacco-ash from fish; for the man who, God knows, was the
first of human creatures to awaken the emotion of love within my
child's breastso extraordinary was the veneration I had for him, that
although I started out on this narrative by saying it was Paragot's
story and not my own I proposed to tell, I hope to be pardoned for a
brief egotistical excursion.
Like the gentleman in Chaucer, Paragot had over his beddes hedde a
shelf of books to which, careless creature that he was, he did not
dream of denying me access. In that attic in Tavistock Street I read
Smollett and Byron and somehow spelt through Nana. I also found there
the De Imitatione Christi, which I read with much the same
enjoyment as I did the others. You must not think this priggish of me.
The impressionable child of starved imagination will read anything that
is printed. In my mother's house I used to purloin the squares of
newspaper in which the fried fish from Mr. Samuel's had been wrapped,
and surreptitiously read them. Why not Saint Thomas à Kempis?
I have in my possession now a filthy piece of paper, dropping to
bits, on which is copied, in my round Board School boy handwriting, the
eleventh chapter of the De Imitatione.
My Son, thou hast still many things to learn, which thou hast
not well learned yet.
What are they, Lord?
To place thy desire altogether in subjection to my good pleasure
and not to be a lover of thyself, but an earnest seeker of my will. Thy
desires often excite and urge thee forward: but consider with thyself
whether thou art not more moved for thine own objects than for my
honour. If it is myself that thou seekest thou shalt be well content
with whatsoever I shall ordain; but if any pursuit of thine own lieth
hidden within thee, behold it is this which hindreth and weigheth thee
Beware, therefore, lest thou strive too earnestly after some
desire which thou hast conceived, without taking counsel of me: lest
haply it repent thee afterwards, and that displease thee which before
pleased, and for which thou didst long as for a great good. For not
every affection which seemeth good is to be forthwith followed: neither
is every opposite affection to be immediately avoided. Sometimes it is
expedient to use restraint even in good desires and wishes, lest
through importunity thou fall into distraction of mind, lest through
want of discipline thou become a stumbling-block to others, or lest by
the resistance of others thou be suddenly disturbed and brought to
Sometimes indeed it is needful to use violence, and manfully to
strive against the sensual appetite, and not to consider what the flesh
may or not will; but rather to strive after this, that it may become
subject, however unwillingly, to the spirit. And for so long it ought
to be chastised and compelled to undergo slavery, even until it be
ready for all things; and learn to be contented with little, to be
delighted with things simple, and never to murmur at any inconvenience.
Let no one be shocked. It was one of the great acts of devotion of
my life. I copied this out as a boy, not because it counselled me in my
duty towards God, but because it summed up my whole duty to Paragot.
Paragot was Me. I saw the relation between Paragot and myself in
every line. Had not I often fallen into distraction of mind over my
drawing and books when I ought to have been helping Mrs. Housekeeper
downstairs? Was it not want of discipline that made me a
stumbling-block that memorable night in the Club? Ought I not to be
content with everything Paragot should ordain? And was it not my duty
to murmur at no inconvenience?
Years afterwards I showed this paper to Paragot. He wept. Alas! I
had not well chosen my opportunity.
I remember, the night after I copied the chapter, Cherubino and I
helped Paragot up the stairs and put him to bed. It was the first time
I had seen him the worse for liquor. But when one has been accustomed
to see one's mother and all her adult acquaintances dead drunk, the
spectacle of a god slightly overcome with wine is neither here nor
THERE was one merit (if merit it was) of my mother's establishment.
No skeletons lurked in cupboards. They flaunted their grimness all over
the place. Such letters as she received trailed about the kitchen, for
all who chose to read, until they were caught up to cleanse a
frying-pan. As she possessed no private papers their sanctity was never
inculcated; and I could have rummaged, had I so desired, in every
drawer or box in the house without fear of correction. When I took up
my abode with Paragot, he laid no embargo on any of his belongings. The
attic, except for sleeping purposes, was as much mine as his, and it
did not occur to me that anything it contained could not be at my
This must be my apologia for reading, in all innocence, but with
much enjoyment, some documents of a private nature which I discovered
one day, about a year after I had entered Paragot's service, stuffed by
way of keeping them together in an old woollen stocking. They have been
put into my possession now for the purpose of writing this narrative,
so my original offence having been purged, I need offer no apology for
referring to them. There was no sort of order in the bundle of
documents; you might as well look for the quality of humour in a
dromedary, or of mercy in a pianist, as that of method in Paragot. I
managed however to disentangle two main sets, one a series of love
letters and the other disconnected notes of travel. In both was I
The love-letters, some of which were written in English and some in
French, were addressed to a beautiful lady named Joanna. I knew she was
beautiful because Paragot himself said so. Pure et ravissante comme
une aube d'avril, My dear dream of English loveliness, the fair
flower of my life and remarks such as these were proof positive. The
odd part of it was that they seemed not to have been posted. He wrote:
not till my arms are again around you will your beloved eyes behold
these outpourings of my heart. The paper heading bore the word
Paris. Allusions to a great artistic project on which he was working
baffled my young and ignorant curiosity. I have Love, Youth, Genius,
Beauty on my side, he wrote, and I shall conquer. We shall be
irresistible. Fame will attend my genius, homage your Beauty; we shall
walk on roses and dwell in the Palaces of the Earth. My heart thrilled
when I read these lines. I knew that Paragot was a great man.
Here, again, was proof. I did not reflect that this vision splendid of
earth's palaces had faded into the twilight of the Tavistock Street
garret. Thank heaven we have had years of remembered life before we
learned to reason.
I had many pictures of my hero in those strange letter days, so
remote to my childish mind. He crosses the Channel in December, just to
skulk for one dark night against the railings of the London Square
where she dwelt, in the hope of seeing her shadow on the blind. For
some reason which I could not comprehend, the lovers were forbidden to
meet. It rains, he sees nothing, but he returns to Paris with
contentment in his heart and a terrible cold in his head. But, I have
seen the doorstep, he writes, qu'effleurent tous les jours ces
petits pieds si adorés.
I hate your modern manner of wooing. A few weeks ago a young woman
in need of my elderly counsel showed me a letter from her betrothed. He
had been educated at Oxford University and possessed a motor-car, and
yet he addressed her as old girl and alluded to the regular
beanfeast they would have when they were married; and the damsel not
only found nothing wanting in the missive, but treasured it as if it
had been an impapyrated kiss. Joie de mon âme, wrote Paragot,
I have seen the doorstep which your little feet so adored touch
lightly every day. I like that better. But this is the opinion of the
Asticot of a hundred and fifty. The Asticot of fourteen could not
contrast: for him sufficed the Absolute of the romance of Paragot's
love-making. Yet I did have a standard of comparisonFerdinand, whom
till then I had regarded as the Prince of Lovers. But he paled into the
most prosaic young man before the newly illuminated Paragot, and as for
Miranda I sent her packing from her throne in my heart and Joanna
reigned in her stead. Little idiot that I was, I set to dreaming of
Joanna. You may not like the name, but to me it held and still holds
The other papers, as I have said, were records of travel, and I
instinctively recognized that they referred to subsequent Joanna-less
days. They were written on the backs of bills in outlandish languages,
leaves torn from greasy note-books, waste stuff exhaling exotic odours,
and odds and scraps of paper indescribable. In after years in Paris I
besought Paragot, almost on my knees, to write an account of the years
of vagabondage to which these papers refer. It would make, I told him,
a picaresque romance compared with which that of Gil Bias de
Santillane were the tale of wanderings round a village pump. Such, said
I, is given to few men to produce. But Paragot only smiled, and sipped
his absinthe. It was against his principles, he said. The world would
be a gentler habitat if there had never been written or graven record
of a human action, and he refused to pander to the obscene curiosity of
the multitude as to the thoughts and doings of an entire stranger.
Besides, literary composition was beset with too many difficulties.
One's method of expression had always to be in evening dress which he
abhorred, and he could not abide the violet ink and pin-pointed pens
supplied in cafés and places where one writes. So the world has lost a
The notes formed reading as disconnected as a dictionary. They were
so abrupt. Incidents were noted which stimulated my young imagination
like stinging-nettles; and then nothing more.
As soon as Hedwige had taught me German, she grew sick and tired of
me; and when she wanted to marry an under-officer of cavalry with
moustaches reaching to the top of his Pikelhaube, who tried to
run me through the body when he saw such a scarecrow walking out with
her, I left Cassel.
And that was all I learned with regard to Cassel, Hedwige, (save
from two other notes) or his learning the German tongue.
The following note is the only one he thought worth while to make of
a journey through Russia.
Novotorshakaya is a beastly hole (un trou infect). The bugs
are the most companionable creatures in it, and they are the cleanest.
At Prague, he scribbles on a sheet of paper stained with
coffee-cup rings, I made the acquaintance of a polite burglar, who
introduced me to his lady wife, and to other courteous criminals, their
spouses and families. My slight knowledge of Czech, which I had by this
time acquired, enabled me to take vast pleasure in their society.
Granted their sociological premises, based on Proudhon, they are too
logical. The lack of imaginative power to break away from convention,
their convention, is a serious defect in their character. They take
their gospel of tuum est meum too seriously. I do not
inordinately sympathise with people who get themselves hanged for a
principle. And that is what my friend Mysdrizin did. An old lady of
Prague, obstinate as the old sometimes are, on whom he called
professionally, disputed his theories; whereupon, instead of smiling
with the indulgence of one who knows the art of living, and letting her
have her own way, he convinced her with a life-preserver. His widow,
like her predecessor of Ephesus, desiring speedy consolation, I fled
the city. My Epicureanism and her iron-bound individualism would have
clashed. I had played the Battle of Prague à quatre mains
sufficiently in my tender childhood. I had no wild yearning to
Here is another:
There is no date. None of these jottings bear a date, and when I
last saw Paragot he had not the patience to arrange these far off
memories. Verona! To me the word recalls immemorable
associationsvistas of narrow old streets redolent of the Renaissance,
echoing still with brawl and clash of arms, and haunted by the general
stock in trade of the artist's historical fancy. But did Verona appeal
to Paragot's romantic sense? Not a bit of it.
At Verona, runs the jotting, I lodged with the cheeriest little
undertaker in the world, who had a capital low-class practice. His
wife, four children, and whoever happened to be the lodger, were all
pressed into the merry service. We sang Funiculi funiculà as we
drove in the nails. When I make coffins again I shall sing that
refrain. It has an unisonal value that is positively captivating. Had
it not been that a diet of spaghetti and anæmic wine, a tord-boyau
(intestine-twister) of unparalleled virulence undermined my
constitution, and that the four children, whose bedroom I shared, all
took whooping-cough at once and thus robbed me of sleep, I might have
been coffin-making to the tune of Funiculi, Funiculà to the
Here and there were jottings of figures. I know now they refer to
Paragot's tiny patrimony on which heand I, in after yearssubsisted.
It was so small that no wonder he worked now and then for a living
I also see now, as of course I could not be expected to see then,
that Paragot, being a creature of extremes, would either have the
highest or the lowest. In these travel-sketches, as he cannot go to
Grand Hotels, I find him avoiding like lazar-houses the commercial or
family hostelries where he will foregather with the half-educated, the
half-bred, the half-souled; the offence of them is too rank for his
spirit. The pretending simian class, aping the vices of the rich and
instinct with the vices of the low, and frank in neither, moves the
man's furious scorn. He will have realities at any cost. All said and
done, the bugs of Novortovshakaya did not masquerade as hummingbirds,
nor merry Giuseppi Sacconi of Verona as a critic of Girolami dai Libri.
I don't mind, he writes on a loose sheet, apropos of nothing, the
frank dunghill outside a German peasant's kitchen window. It is a
matter of family pride. The higher it can be piled the greater his
consideration. But what I loathe and abominate is the dungheap hidden
beneath Hedwige's draper papa's parlour floor.
When I came to this in my wrongful search through Paragot's papers,
I felt greatly relieved. I thought Hedwige had seduced him from his
allegiance to Joanna, and that he was sorry she had married the
sergeant with moustaches reaching to his Pikelhaube, though what
part of his person his Pikelhaube was, I could not for the life
of me imagine. I pictured Hedwige as a gigantic awe-compelling lady.
The name somehow conveyed the idea to me. It was peculiarly comforting
to learn that she was a horrid girl whose papa had a draper's shop over
a dunghill. I no longer bothered my head concerning her, for soon I
came across a reference to Joanna.
I was lounging one day in the Puerta del Sol, that swarming central
parallelogram of Madrid, and musing on the possibilities of progress in
a nation which contents itself with ox-transport in the heart of its
capital, when a carriage drove past me in which I can almost still
swear I saw Joanna. It entered the Calle de San Hieronimo. I started in
racing pursuit and fell into the arms of a green-gloved soldier. To
avoid arrest as a madman or a murderer, for no sane man runs in Spain,
I leaped into a fiacre and gave such chase as tomorrow's victim of the
bull-ring would allow. We came up with the carriage on the Prado, just
in time to see the skirts of a lady vanish through the door of a house.
I dismissed my cab and waited. I waited two solid hours. That attracted
no attention. Everyone waits in Spain. To stand interminably at a
street corner is to take out a patent of respectability. But my
confounded heart beat wildly. I had an agonized desire to see
her again. I addressed the liveried coachman in my best Spanish, taking
off my hat and bowing low.
'Señor, will you have the great goodness to tell me who is that
'Señor,' he replied with equal urbanity, 'it is not correct for
coachmen to give rapscallions information as to their employers.'
'When your Señora bids the rapscallion sit beside her in the
carriage and orders you to drive, you will regret your insolence,' said
I turned a haughty back on him; but I felt his lackey's eye fixed
disapprovingly on my rags.
'I will hear the sound,' said I to myself, 'of her silvery English
voice, or I will die.'
Then the door opened, and the beautiful lady entered the carriage;
and it was not Joanna.
The gods were without bowels of compassion for me that day.
Another scrap contains the following:
Thus have I come to the end of a five years' vagabondage. I started
out as a Pilgrim to the Inner Shrine of Truth which I have sought from
St. Petersburg to Lisbon, from Taormina to Christiania. I have lived in
a spiritual shadowland, dreaming elusive dreams, my better part stayed
by the fitful vision of things unseen. Such an exquisite
wild-goose-chase has never man undertaken before or since the dear
Knight of La Mancha. And now I come to think of it, I don't know what
the deuce I have been after, save that instead of pursuing I have all
the time been running away.
In my next quest I must not proclaim my Dulcinea too loudly. When
Hedwige's little sister came to me with a doll into which Hedwige had
savagely run hatpins so that the stuffing came out, I consoled the
weeping infant with a new doll and the assurance that Hedwige was the
spitefullest cat as yet evolved from a feline sex. I had no notion at
the time of the reason for Hedwige's viciousness. But now I fancy she
must have acted according to mediæval superstition and used the doll as
Joanna's hated effigy. I remember that the next time I saw her I
criticised her straight Teutonic fringe and fanfaronaded on the
captivating frizziness of Joanna's hair. The wonder is that Hedwige did
not run hatpins into me. The murderer's widow of Prague was
built of sterner stuff; she cared not a hempen strand for Joanna, a
pale consumptive doxy, according to her picturing, who had jilted me
for an eminent swell-mobsman in London.
I spent many happy hours over these scraps, building up the
fantastic fairy tale of Paragot's antecedents, and should have gone on
reading them for an indefinite time had not Paragot one day discovered
me. It was then that I learned the sacrosanctity of private papers.
I thought, my little Asticot, said he, bending his blue eyes on
me, I thought you were a gentleman.
Only Paragot could have had so crazy a thought. I could not be a
gentleman, I reflected, till I had a gold watch-chain. However Paragot
expected me to be one without the seal and token of outward adornments,
and I promised faithfully to mould myself according to his
How much of this nightmare farrago have you read?
I know it all by heart, Master, said I.
He took off his old hat and threw it on the bed, and ran his fingers
through his hair perplexedly.
My son, said he at last, if you were just a common boy I should
make you go on your bended knees and lift up your hand and swear that
you would not reveal to a living soul the mysteries which these papers
contain, and then I should send you to dwell for ever among the
tripe-plates. But I see before me a gentleman, a scholar and an artist
and I will not submit him to such an indignity.
He put his hand on my head and looked at me in kind irony.
I will never tell no one, Master, I promised.
Anyone, he corrected.
Anyone, Master, I repeated meekly.
You will wipe it all out of your memory.
I was habitually truthful with Paragot, because he never gave me
cause to lie.
I can't, Master, said I, thinking of my dreams of Joanna.
The seriousness of my tone amused him.
What has made such an indelible impression on your mind?
I can't forget I blurted out, moved both by reluctance to
yield over my dreams of Joanna and by a desire to show off my
familiarity with French, I can't forget about ces petits pieds si
The smile died from his face, which assumed a queer, scared
expression. He went to the window and stood there so long, that I, in
my turn grew scared. I realised dimly what I had done, and I could have
bitten my tongue out. I drew near him.
Master, said I timidly.
He did not seem to hear; presently he picked up his hat from the bed
and walked out without taking any notice of me.
We did not refer to the papers again until long afterwards, and
though they lay unguarded as before in the old stocking, never till
this present day have I set my eyes on them.
ONE May morning a year after my surprising of Paragot's secret, I
awoke later than usual, the three-and-sixpenny clock on the mantelpiece
marking eleven, and huddling on my clothes in alarm I left the foul
smelling Club room, and ran upstairs to arouse my master.
To my astonishment he was not alone. A stout florid man, wearing a
white waistcoat which bellied out like the sail of a racing yacht, a
frock coat and general resplendency of garb, stood planted in the
middle of the room, while Paragot still in nightshirt but trousered,
sat swinging his leg on a corner of the deal table. I noticed the
fiddle which Paragot had evidently been playing before his visitor's
arrival, lying on the disordered bed.
Who the devil is this? cried the fat man angrily.
This is Mr. Asticot, my private secretary, who cooks my herrings
and attends to my correspondence. Usually he cooks two, but if you will
join us at breakfast Mr. Hogson
Pogson, bawled the fat man.
I beg your pardon, said my master sweetly. If you will join us at
breakfast he will cook three.
Damn your breakfast, said Mr. Pogson.
Only two then, Asticot. This gentleman has already breakfasted. You
will forgive us for not treating you as a stranger.
Mr. Pogson, who was in a rage, thumped the table with his hand.
I'll give you to understand Mr. Henkendyke, that I am the
proprietor of this club. I have bought it with my money, and I'm not
going to see it go to eternal glory as it's doing under your
management. I'm not like that old ass Ballantyne. I'm a business man
and I'm going to run this club for a profit, and if you continue to be
manager you'll jolly well have to turn over a new leaf.
My good friend, said my master, rising and thrusting his hands in
his pockets, you have told me that about ten times; it is getting
The way this place is run, continued Mr. Pogson, unheeding, is
scandalous. Not a blessed account kept. No check on provisions or
drink. Every night your servants are drunk.
As owls, said Paragot.
And what the dickens do you do?
I give the Lotus Club the prestige of my presidency. I accept a
salary and this presidential residence as my remuneration. You do not
expect a man like me to keep ledgers and check butcher's bills like a
twopennyhalfpenny clerk in the City. It is you, my dear Mr. Pogson, who
have curious ideas of club management. You should put this sort of
thing into the hands of some arithmetical hireling. I he waved his
long fingers tipped with their long nails, magnificentlyam the
picturesque, the intellectual, the spiritual guide of the club.
You are a fraud, cried Mr. Pogson, using so dreadful an
adjective that I dropped the gridiron. Paragot had trained me to a
distaste of foul language. You are a drunken incompetent thief.
Paragot took his guest's glossy silk hat and gold mounted cane from
the table and put them into his hands. He pointed to the door.
Get outquickly, said he.
He turned on his heel and sitting on the bed began to play the
fiddle. Mr. Pogson instead of getting out stood in front of him
quivering like an infuriated jelly, and informed him that it was his
blooming club and his blooming room, that he would choose the moment of
exit most convenient to his own blooming self; also that Paragot's
speedy exit was a matter for his decision. In a dancing fury he heaped
abuse on Paragot who played The Last Rose of Summer, with rather more
tremolo than usual. Even I saw that he was dangerous. Mr. Pogson did
not heed. Suddenly Paragot sprang to his feet towering over the fat man
and swung his fiddle on high like Thor's hammer. With a splitting crash
it came down on Mr. Pogson's head. Then Paragot gripped him and running
with him to the door, shot him down the stairs.
That, my little Asticot, said he, is the present proprietor of
the Lotus Club, and this is the late manager.
I ran to the door for the purpose of locking it. Paragot smiled.
He will not come back. When he has mended what Fluellen calls his
'ploody coxcomb,' he will take out a summons against me for assault.
He threw himself on the bed, while I, in trembling bewilderment,
prepared the breakfast. Presently he broke into a loud laugh.
The fool! The mammonite fool, Asticot! Does he think that Mr.
Ulysses-es are picked up by the hundred among the smug young men of the
Polytechnic who add up figures, and keep books by double entry? Do you
know what double entry is?
No, Master, said I from my squatting seat on the floor by the gas
Thank the gods for your ignorance. It is a nescience whereby human
aspirations are cribbed within ruled lines and made to balance on the
opposite side. Would you like to see me obey Mr. Mammon's behest and
crib my aspirations within ruled lines?
No, Master, said I.
The gods have given you understanding, said he, which is better
than book-keeping by double entry.
At the time I thought my master's attitude magnificent and I
despised Mr. Pogson from the bottom of my heart. But since then I have
wondered how the deuce the Lotus Club survived a month of Paragot's
management. In after years when I questioned him, he said airily that
he left all financial questions to Ballantyne, the old actor
proprietor, who had grown infirm, and that he was president and not
manager. Yet to my certain knowledge he paid wages to Mrs. Housekeeper,
Cherubino and myself, and as for tradesmen's bills they were strewn
about Paragot's bedchamber like the autumn leaves of Vallombrosa, in
greater numbers than the articles of his attire. On the other hand, I
have no recollection of moneys coming in. There must have been some
loose unbusinesslike arrangement between Ballantyne and himself which
most justifiably shocked the business instincts of Mr. Pogson. There I
sympathise with the latter. But I must admit that he showed a want of
tact in dealing with Paragot.
My master was in gay spirits during breakfast. When he had finished,
he declared the meal to be the most enjoyable he had eaten in Tavistock
Street. My insensate conceit regarded the statement as a tribute to my
culinary skill and I glowed with pride. I informed him that my herring
cookery was nothing to what I could do with sprats.
My little Asticot, said he, filling his porcelain pipe, I have to
offer you my joint congratulation and commiseration. I congratulate you
on your being no longer a scullion. I commiserate with you on the loss
of your salary of eighteen pence a week. Your sensitive spirit would
revolt against taking service under anyone of Mr. Mammon's myrmidons,
and even if it didn't, I am sure he would not employ you. Like Caliban
no longer will you 'scrape trencher nor wash dish'at least in the
Lotus Clubfor from this hour I dismiss you from its service.
He smoked silently in his wicker chair, giving me time to realise
the sudden change in my fortunes. Then only did I understand. I saw
myself for a desolate moment, cast motherless, rudderless on the wide
world where art and scholarship met with contumely and undergrown youth
was buffeted and despised. My gorgeous dreams were at an end. The
blighting commonplace overspread my soul.
What would you like to do, my little Asticot? he asked.
I pulled myself together and looked at him heroically.
I could be a butcher's boy.
The corners of my mouth twitched. It was a shuddersome avocation,
and the prospect of the companionship of other butcher boys who could
not draw, did not know French, and had never heard of Joanna filled me
with a horrible sense of doom.
Suddenly Paragot leaped up in his wild way to his feet and clapped
me so heartily on the shoulder that I staggered.
My son, cried he, I have an inspiration. It is spring, and the
hedgerows are greener than the pavement, and the high roads of Europe
are wider than Tavistock Street. We will seek them to-day, Asticot
de mon coeur; I'll be Don Quixote and you'll be my Sancho, and
we'll go again in quest of adventures. He laughed aloud, and shook me
like a little rat. Cela te tape dans l'oeil, mon petit Asticot?
Without waiting for me to reply, he rushed to the ricketty
washstand, poured out water from the broken ewer, and after washing,
began to dress in feverish haste, talking all the time. Used as I was
to his suddenness my wits could not move fast enough to follow him.
Then I needn't be a butcher's boy? I said at last.
He paused in the act of drawing on a boot.
Butcher's boy? Do you want to be a butcher's boy?
No, Master, said I fervently.
Then what are you talking of? He had evidently not heard my answer
to his question. I am going to educate you in the High School of the
Earth, the University of the Universe, and to-morrow you shall see a
cow and a dandelion. And before then you will be disastrously seasick.
The sea! I cried in delirious amazement. We are going on the sea?
Where are we going?
To France, petit imbécile, he cried. Why are you not
getting ready to go there?
I might have answered that I had no personal preparations to make;
but feeling rebuked for idleness while he was so busy, I began to clear
away the breakfast things. He stopped me.
Nom de Dieu, we are not going to travel with cups and
He dragged from the top of the cupboard an incredibly dirty carpet
bag of huge dimensions and decayed antiquity, and bade me pack therein
our belongings. The process was not a lengthy one; we had so few. When
we had little more than half filled the bag with articles of attire and
the toilette stuffed in pell-mell, we looked around for ballast.
The books, Master, said I.
We will take the immortal works of Maître François Rabelais, and
the dirty little edition of 'David Copperfield.' The remainder of the
library we will sell in Holywell Street.
And the violin?
He picked up the maimed instrument and, after looking at it
critically, threw it into a corner.
For Pogson, said he.
When we had tied up the books with a piece of stout string
providentially lying at the bottom of the cupboard, our preparations
were complete. Paragot donned his cap and a storm-stained Inverness
cape, grasped the carpet bag and looked round the room.
En route, said he, and I followed with the books. We gained
the street and left the Lotus Club behind us for ever.
What Mrs. Housekeeper said, what Cherubino said, what the members
said when they found no Mr. Ulysses presiding at the supper table that
evening, what Mr. Pogson said when he learned that his assailant had
shaken the dust of the Lotus Club from off his feet and strolled into
the wide world without giving him the opportunity of serving a summons
for assault, I have never been able to discover. Nor have I learned who
succeeded Paragot as president and occupied the palatial chamber of all
the harmonies that was Paragot's squalid attic. When, in after years, I
returned to London the Lotus Club had passed from human memory, and at
the present day a perky set of office premises stands on its site. The
morality of Paragot's precipitate exodus I am not in a position to
discuss. From his point of view the fact of having disliked the new
proprietor from their first interview, and broken a fiddle over his
head, rendered his position as president untenable. Paragot walked out.
After having sold the books for a few shillings in Holywell Street,
we marched up Fleet Street into the City, and entered a stupendous,
unimagined building which Paragot informed me was his bank. Elegant
gentlemen behind the counter shovelled gold to and fro with the same
casual indifference as I had seen grocers' assistants shovel tea. One
of them, a gorgeous fellow wearing a white piqué tie and a horse-shoe
pin, paid such deference to Paragot that I went out prodigiously
impressed by my master's importance. I was convinced that he owned the
establishment, and during the next quarter of an hour I could not speak
to him for awe.
It was about two o'clock when we reached Victoria Station. There
Paragot discovered, for the first time, that there was not a train till
nine in the evening. It had not occurred to him that trains did not
start for Paris at quarter of an hour intervals during the day.
My son, said he, now is the time to make practical use of our
philosophy. Instead of heaping vain maledictions on the Railway
Company, let us deposit our luggage in the cloak room and take a walk
on the Thames Embankment.
We walked thither and sat on a vacant bench beside the Cleopatra's
Needle. It was a warm May afternoon. My young mind and body fired by
the excitements of the day found rest in the sunny idleness. It was
delicious to be here, instead of washing up plates and dishes with Mrs.
Housekeeper. Paragot took off his old slouch hat, stretched himself
easefully and sighed.
I am anxious to get to Paris to consult Henri Quatre.
Who is Henri Quatre, Master? I asked.
Henri Quatre is on the Pont Neuf. That is a French saying which
means that Queen Anne is dead. He was a great King of France and his
statue on horseback is in the middle of a great bridge across the Seine
called the Pont Neuf. He is a great friend of mine. I will tell you a
story. Once upon a time there lived in Paris a magnificent young man
who thought himself a genius. He was a genius, my little
Asticot. A genius is a man who writes immortal books, paints immortal
pictures, rears immortal buildings and commits immortal follies. Don't
be a genius, my son, it isn't good for anybody. Well, this young man
was clad in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. He
also had valuable furniture. One evening something happened to annoy
What annoyed him? I asked.
A flaw in what he had conceived to be the scheme of the universe,
replied my master. It annoys many people. The young man being annoyed,
cast the fruits of his genius into the fire, tore up his purple and
fine linen and smashed his furniture with a Crusader's mace which
happened to be hanging by way of an ornament on the wall. It's made of
steel with a knob full of spikes, and weighs about nine pounds. I know
nothing like it for destroying a Louis Quinze table, or for knocking
the works out of a clock. If you're good, my son, you shall have one
when you grow up.
I looked gratefully at him. Not content with his kindness to me
then, he would be my benefactor still when I reached manhood.
The young man then packed a valise full of necessaries and went out
into the street. It was a rainy November evening. He walked along the
quays through the lamp-lit drizzle till he came to the statue of Henri
Quatre. The Pont Neuf was alive with traffic and the swiftly passing
lights of vehicles threw conflicting gleams over the wet statue. The
gas-lamps flickered in the wind. Paragot flickered his long fingers
dramatically, to illustrate the gas-lamps. On all sides rose vague
masses of buildingthe Louvre away beyond the bridge, the frowning
mass of the Conciergeriethe towering turrets of Notre Dameswelling
like billows against the sky. Pale reflections came from the river. Do
you see the picture, my little Asticot? And the young man clutched the
railings that surround the plinth of the statue, and caught sight of
the face of Henri Quatre, and Henri Quatre looked at him so kindly that
he said: 'Mon bon roi, you are of the South like myself: I am
leaving Paris to go into the wide world, but I don't know where in the
wide world to go to.' And the King nodded his head and pointed to
the Gare de Lyon. And the young man took off his hat and said, '
Mon bon roi, I thank you!' He went to the Gare de Lyon and found a
train just starting for Italy. So he went to Italy. I have a great
respect for Henri Quatre.
And what happened to him then, Master? I asked, after a breathless
He became a vagabond philosopher, replied Paragot, refilling his
No argument has ever been able to convince Paragot that the statue
did not nod its head and point the way to Italy. For some years I
myself believed it; but at last it became obvious that the flashing
gleams of light over the wet statue had made him the victim of a trick
of the eyes. I think the only serious offence I ever gave Paragot was
when I presented to him this solution of the mystery.
Varied discourse and a meal in a Strand eating-house filled up the
hours till nine o'clock. And then I started for Wonderland with
* * * * *
We stayed in Paris but two days. When I asked my master why our
sojourn was not longer, he said something about the bitter-sweet of
it, which I could not understand. I have only two clear memories of
Paris. He took me to see Henri Quatre, and explained how the statue
nodded and how the hand which held the reins lifted and pointed to the
Gare de Lyon. What more conclusive proof of his veracity need I have
than actual confrontation with Henri Quatre? The other scene fixed on
my mind is a narrow dark street with tall houses on either side; an
awning outside a humble café; a little table beneath it at which
Paragot and myself were seated. I sipped luxuriously a celestial liquor
which I have since learned was grenadine syrup and water; in front of
Paragot was a curious opalescent milky fluid of which he drank great
quantities during those two days and ever afterwards.
The time has come, said he, rolling his eyes at me with an awful
solemnity and speaking in a thick voice, the time has come to talk of
affairs. First let me impress on you that Henkendyke is an appellation
offensive to French ears. Henceforward my name is PradelPolydore
Pradel. And as it is necessary for you to have an état civil, I
hereby adopt you as my son. Your name is therefore Asticot Pradel. I
hope you like it. You have never known what it is to have a father. Now
the possession of a father is a privilege to which every human being
has a right. I, Polydore Pradel, confer on you that privilege. My
He raised his glass, clinked it against mine and pledged me.
Henceforward, said Paragot, what is good enough for me will I
hope not be good enough for you, and what is too bad for me shall never
be your portion. I swear it by the devil that dwells in this entrancing
but execrated form of alcohol.
He finished his drink and called for another. As soon as the
absinthe had curdled with the dropping water, he filled up the glass
and drank it off. Then he sat for a long time in bemused silence, while
I, perched on my chair, reflected on his great goodness and wondered
how I should help him up the darksome stairs of our hotel without the
aid of Cherubino.
The next day we started on our pilgrimage. Why we went in one
direction more than another, why we went to one place rather than to
another, neither he nor I could tell. I never questioned. Sometimes we
wandered for days on foot, sleeping in village inns or
farm-housesoccasionally under a hedge when the nights were warm.
Sometimes we spent two or three days in an old world town, and Paragot
would show me cathedrals and churches and lecture me on the history of
the place, and set me to sketch bits of the picturesque that took his
fancy. In the cool, exquisite cloister of the Chateau of Jacques Coeur
at Bourges I learned more of the history of Charles VII than any
English boy of my generation. In the Chateau of Blois, the salamanders
of François Premier, the statue of Diane de Poictiers, the poison
cabinet of Catherine de Medici, the dungeons of the Cardinal de
Lorraine, became living testimonies of the past under Paragot's
imaginative teaching. He had set his heart on educating me; suddenly as
the original impulse had seized him, yet it lasted strong and became
the object of his disordered and otherwise aimless life. Books we
always had in plenty. Tattered classics are cheap enough in France, and
what mattered it if pages were missing? When done with we threw them
away. We might have been tracked through the country, like the hares in
a paper chase, by the trail of literature we left behind us.
In spite of his unmethodical temperament Paragot made one fixed rule
for my habits. In towns and larger villages, I went to bed at nine
o'clock. What he did with himself by way of amusement in the evenings I
never knew. Nor did it occur to me to conjecture. Healthily tired after
a happy day I was only too glad to crawl to whatever queer resting
place chance provided, and to sleep the sound sleep of boyhood. To be
for ever moving amid a fairyland of novelty, to have no care for the
morrow, to have no tasks save those that were a delight, to be under
the protecting guidance of a godlike being whose very reproofs were
couched in terms of humorous kindness, to eat strange unexpected
things, to fraternise in a new tongue, which daily grew more familiar,
with any urchin on the high-road or city byway, to pass wondering days
among country sights and country soundsto be in short the perfect
vagabond, could boy dream of a more glorious life?
Now and again a whimsy seized my master and he declared that we must
work and earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brows. At a farm near
Chartres we hired ourselves out to an elderly couple, Monsieur and
Madame Dubosc, and spent toilsome but healthy days carting manure.
Although Paragot wrought miracles with his pitchfork, I don't think
Monsieur Dubosc took him seriously. Peasant shrewdness penetrated to
the gentleman beneath Paragot's blouse, and peasant ignorance
attributed to him the riches which he did not possess. They became
great friends, however, and before we left he succeeded in establishing
himself as a kind of oracle by curing a pig of some mysterious disease
by means of a remedy which he said he had learned in Dalmatia. Old
Madame Dubosc shed tears when we left La Haye.
Sometimes Paragot grew tired of tramping, and we travelled by rail,
in the wooden third class compartments of omnibus trains that stopped
at every station. Now and then pure chance took us to any particular
town. It was at Nancy that Paragot went to the ticket office and said
with the utmost politeness:
Monsieur, will you have the kindness to give me a ticket?
To what destination? asked the clerk peering through his pigeon
Parbleu, said Paragot, to any destination you like
provided it is not too expensive.
The clerk called him a farceur and would have nothing to do
with him, but Paragot protested.
Pardon, Monsieur, I have but one wish, to get away from Nancy. I
have seen the Episcopal Palace on the Place Stanislas, the Cathedral,
and I have viewed but I have not read the seventy-five thousand volumes
in the University Library. You know the places one gets to from Nancy,
which I do not. I am a stranger, in your hands. If you could suggest to
me a town about 100 kilometres distant
There is Longwy, said the haughty official.
Then have the kindness to give me two third class tickets to
Longwy, said Paragot.
And to Longwy we went. Paragot contemplated the lack of interest in
the smug little town.
To hold out Longwy as a goal to the enthusiastic Pilgrim to the
Shrine of Truth, said he, could only enter the timber-built mind of a
French railway official.
The record of our wanderings would mark the stages of my own
development, but would be of little count as a history of Paragot. We
tramped and trained south through Italy and spent the winter in Rome.
Then it entered his head to obtain employment for both of us, as
workman and boy, on the excavations of the Forum. We lived in the slums
with our brother excavators, and were completely happy. So happy that
though we wandered the next year over France and part of Germany the
winter again found us working in Rome. In the following Spring we set
our faces northward, and in July Destiny overtook us in Savoy.
IT was the late afternoon of a sweltering July day. The near hills
slumbered in the sunshine. Far away beyond them grey peaks of Alpine
spurs, patched with snow, rose in faint outline against the sky. The
valley lay in rich idleness, green and gold and fruitful, yielding
itself with a maternal largeness to the white fifteenth century château
on the hillside. A long white road stretched away to the left following
the convolutions of the valley, until it became a thread; on the right
it turned sharply by a clump of trees which marked a farm. In the
middle of it all, in the grateful shadow cast by a wayside café, sat
Paragot and myself, watching with thirsty eyes the buxom but slatternly
patronne pour out beer from a bottle. A dirty, long-haired mongrel
terrier lapped water from an earthenware bowl, at the foot of the
wooden table at which we sat. This was Narcisse, a recent member of our
vagabond family, whom my master had casually adopted some weeks before
and had christened according to some lucus a non lucendo
principle of his own. I think he was the least beautiful dog I have
ever met; but I loved him dearly.
Paragot drained his tumbler, handed it back to be refilled, drained
it again and cleared his throat with the contentment of a man whose
thirst has been slaked.
Now one can spit, he exclaimed heartily.
That is always a comfort to a man, remarked the patronne.
It is the potentiality that is the comfort. Have you apartments for
the night, Madame?
They are for des messieursfor gentlemen, said the
Narcisse having also finished his draught stretched himself out on
the ground, his chin on his fore paws, and glanced furtively upwards at
the disparaging lady.
Tron de l'air! cried Paragot, are we not gentlemen?
Tiens, you are of the Midi, cried the woman, recognising
the expletivefor no one born north of Avignon says Tron de l'air
I too am from Marseilles. My husband was a Savoyard. That is why I
I am a gentleman of Gascony, said my master, and this is my son
It is a droll name, said the patronne.
We are commercial travellers on our rounds with samples of
It is a droll trade, said the patronne.
We were greasy and dirty, sunburnt to the colour of Egyptian
felaheen and dressed in the peasant's blue blouse. Creatures more
unlike professors of philosophy could not be conceived. But the
patronne seemed to be impressedas who was not?by Paragot.
The rooms will be three francs, Monsieur, she said after a
I engage them, said my master. Asticot, aid Madame to take our
luggage up to our bedchambers. I grasped my bundle and handed
Paragot's dilapidated canvas gripsack to the patronne. He
One moment, Madame. As you see, my portmanteau contains a shirt, a
pair of socks, a comb and a toothbrush. Also a copy of the works of the
divine vagrant Maître François Villon, which I will take out at once.
He was a thief and a reprobate and got nearer hanged than any man who
ever lived, and he is the dearest friend I have.
You have droll friends, remarked the patronne continuing
And to think that he died four hundred years ago, sighed my
master. Isn't it strange, Madame, that all the bravest men and most
beautiful women are those that are dead?
The landlady laughed. You talk like a true Gascon, Monsieur. In
this country people are so silent that one loses the use of one's
I departed with her to see after domestic arrangements and when I
returned I found Paragot smoking his porcelain pipe, and talking to a
dusty child in charge of a goat. Having, at that period, a soul above
dusty children in charge of goats. I sprawled on the ground beside
Narcisse, and being tired by the day's tramp fell into a doze. The good
earth, when you have a casing of it already on clothes and person, is a
comfortable couch; but I think you must be in your teens to enjoy it.
I awoke to the sound of Paragot's voice talking to Narcisse. The
goat child had slipped away. An ox cart laden with hay lumbered past.
The mellowness of late afternoon lay over the land. The shadow cast by
the little white café had deepened gradually far beyond the table. From
within the house came the faint clatter of footsteps and cooking
utensils. Paragot was still smoking. Narcisse sat on his haunches, his
ill shaped head to one side and his ears cocked. After making a vicious
dig at a flea, he yawned and trotted about after the manner of his kind
in search of adventure. Paragot summoned him back.
My good Narcisse, every spot on the earth has its essential quality
which the wise man or dog knows how to enjoy in its entirety. In great
cities where life is pulsating around you, you are alert for the
unexpected. The underlying principle of a world's backwater like this
is restful stagnation. Here you must wallow in the uneventful. In vain
you sniff around in quest of the exciting, mistaking like your fellow
in the fable the shadow for the substance. The substance here is rest.
Here nothing ever happens.
Pardon, Monsieur, said a voice close upon us. Is it very far to
It does not matter, said a second voice following hard on the
first, for I can go no further.
I jumped to my feet and my master started round in his chair. The
first speaker was a girl, the second an old man. She had merely the
comeliness of tanned and hair-bleached peasant youth; he was wizened,
lined, browned and bent. A cotton umbrella shaded the girl's bare head
and she carried in her hand a cane valise covered with grey canvas. The
old man was burdened with two ancient shabby cases, one evidently
containing a violin and the other some queerly shaped musical
instrument. Both the new comers were wayworn and dirty, and my master
seeing suffering on the old man's face rose and courteously offered him
Sit down and rest, said he, and Mademoiselle, you are thinking of
going to Chambéry? But it is nearly a day's journey on foot.
We have to play at a wedding tomorrow, Monsieur, said the girl
piteously. It was arranged two months ago, and we must get there in
There is a railway station not far off, said I.
Alas! we have only ten sous in the world, which is not enough to
pay for our tickets, she answered. Imagine, Monsieur, I had a piece
of twenty francs in my pocket this morning, and I went to the station
to get a ticket, for I had counted on going by railway, as my
grandfather is so ill, and when I came to pay, I found I had lost my
louis. How, the bon Dieu only knows. It is desolating, Monsieur;
we had to walk so as to keep our engagement at Chambéry. If we miss it,
nous sommes dans la purée pour tout de bon.
To be in the purée is to be in a very bad mess indeed. The
prospect of abject pennilessness filled the damsel's eyes with woe.
You earn your living by playing at weddings for folks to dance?
asked my master.
Yes, Monsieur. My grandfather plays the violin and I the zitherwe
also go to fairs. In the winter we play at cafés in large towns. Life
is hard, Monsieur, is it not?
She closed her umbrella and laid it on the valise. The old man sat
by the table, his head resting on his hands, saying nothing.
When I think of my good louis that is gone! she added tragically.
The only feature making for charm in a coarse homely face was a set
of white even teeth. I found her singularly unattractive. A tear rolled
down her cheek and its course was that of a rill in a dusty plain.
Suppose I lend you the money for the railway tickets? said my
O Monsieur, she cried, I should thank you from the depths of my
heart. Grandpère, she turned to the old man who, ashen faced,
was staring in front of him, Monsieur will lend us enough money to get
I can go no further, he murmured.
Then his eyelids quivered, his body moved spasmodically, and he
swayed sideways off the chair on to the ground.
We rushed to aid him. The girl put his head on her lap. My master
bade me run into the café for brandy. When I returned the old man was
Narcisse sat placidly by, with his tongue out, eyeing his master
You are the man, his glance implied, who said that nothing
I have known many dogs in my life, but never so mocking and cynical
a dog as Narcisse.
* * * * *
It was nearly midnight before my master and I sat down again outside
the café. The intervening hours had been spent in journeying to and
from the nearest village, and obtaining the necessary services of
doctor and curé. My master was smoking his porcelain pipe, as usual,
but strangely silent. A faint circle of light came from the open
ground-floor window of the café. The white road gleamed dimly, and
beyond the hushed valley the hills loomed vague against a black,
starlit sky. In the lighted room a few peasants from neighbouring farms
drank their sour white wine and discussed the death in low voices. In
other circumstances my master would have joined them under pretext of
getting nearer the Heart of Life, and would have told them amazing
tales of Ekaterinoslav or Valladolid till they reeled home drunk with
wine and wonder. And I should have been abed. But to-night Paragot
seemed to prefer the silent company of Narcisse and myself.
What do you think of it all, Asticot? he asked at length.
Of what, master?
It frightens me, was all I could answer.
What I resent about it, said my master reflectively, is that one
is not able to have any personal concern in the most interesting event
in one's career. If you could even follow your own funeral and have a
chance of weeping for yourself! You are never so important as when you
are a corpseand you miss it all. I have a good mind not to die. It is
either the silliest or the wisest action of one's life; I wonder
Presently the girl came down the passage of the café, stood for a
moment in the doorway, and seeing Paragot advanced to the table.
You are very kind, Monsieur, she said, and for what you have done
I thank you from my heart.
It was very little, said my master. Asticot, why do you not give
Mademoiselle your chair? Your manners are worse than those of Narcisse.
Mademoiselle, do me the pleasure of being seated.
She sat down, her feet apart, peasant fashion, her hands in her lap.
If I had not lost the twenty francs he would not have died, she
He would have died if you had brought him here in a carriage. He
had aneurism of the heart, the doctor says. He might have died any
moment the last ten years. How old was he?
Seventy, eighty, ninetyhow should I know?
But he was your grandfather.
Ah, no, indeed, Monsieur, she replied in a more animated manner.
He was not a relative. My mother was poor and she sold me to him three
Why that is like me, Master! I cried, vastly interested.
My son, said he in English, that is one of the things that must
be forgotten. And then, Mademoiselle? he asked in French.
Then he taught me to play the zither and to dance. I am sorry he is
dead. Dame, oui, par exemple! But I do not weep for him as for a
grandfather. Oh, no!
And your mother?
She died last year. So I am all alone.
He asked her what she thought of doing for her livelihood. She
shrugged her shoulders with the resignation of her class.
I can always earn my living. There are brasseries, cafés-concerts
in all the townsI am fairly well known. They will give me an
engagement. Il faut passer par là comme les autres.
You must go through it like the others? repeated my master. But
you are very young, my poor child.
I am eighteen, Monsieur, I know I shall not make a fortune. I am
not pretty enough even when I paint, and my figure is heavy. That is
what Père Paragot used to complain of.
What was his name? asked my master, pricking up his ears.
Berzélius Paragotand he took the name of Nibbidard, which means
'no luck'so he loved to call himself Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot.
Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, mouthed my master joyously. I would
give anything for a name like that!
It is yours if you like to take it, she said quite seriously. No
one will want it any more.
Little Asticot of my heart, said he, what do you think of it?
It struck me as a most aristocratically romantic appellation. I was
used to his aliases by this time. He had long ceased to call himself
Pradel, and what was our surname for the moment I am now unable to
You look like 'Paragot,' Master, said I, and, in an inexplicable
way, he didas I have before remarked. He called me a psychometrical
genius and enquired the name of the young lady.
Amélie Duprat, Monsieur, she said. But pour le métierwe
must have professional names for the cafésPère Paragot called me
'Blanquette de Veau.'
Delicious! cried he.
So everyone calls me Blanquette, she explained gravely. There was
a silence. Paragothe really assumed the name from this
momentrefilled his pipe. The belated peasants, having finished their
wine, clattered out of the café, and took off their hats as they passed
Life is very hard, is it not, Messieurs? remarked Blanquette. It
seemed to be her favourite philosophic proposition. She sighed. If
Père Paragot had only lived to play at the wedding tomorrow!
I should have had ten francs.
Ah! said my master.
First I lose my louis, and now I lose my ten francs! ah! Sainte
Vierge de Miséricorde!
It was heart-rending. Sometimes they received more than the
stipulated fee at these village weddings. They passed the hat round. If
the guests were mellow with good wine, which makes folks generous, they
often earned double the amount. And they always had as much as they
liked to eat, and could take away scraps in a handkerchief.
And good wholesome nourishment, Monsieur. Once it was half a
And now there was nothing, nothing. Blanquette did not believe in
the bon Dieu any longer. She buried her face in her arms and
wept. Paragot smoked helplessly for a few moments. I, unused to women's
tears, felt the desolation of the race of Blanquette de Veau overspread
me. But that I considered it to be beneath my dignity as a man, I
should have wept too.
Suddenly Paragot brought his fist down on the table and started to
his feet. Blanquette lifted a scared wet face, dimly seen in the half
Tonnerre de Dieu! cried he, If you hold so much to your
ten francs and half a goose, I myself will come with you to Chambéry
tomorrow and fiddle at the wedding.
You, Monsieur? she gasped.
Yes, I. Why not? Do you think I can't scrape catgut as well as Père
He walked to and fro declaring his musical powers in his boastful
way. If he chose he could rip out the hearts of a dead Municipal
Council with a violin, and could set a hospital for paralytics
a-dancing. He would have fiddled the children of Hamelin away from the
Pied Piper. Didn't Blanquette believe him?
But yes, Monsieur, she said fervently.
My faith in him was absolute. To my mind he had even understated his
abilities. The experience of the disillusioning years has since caused
me to modify my opinions; but Paragot's boastfulness has not lessened
him in my eyes. And this leads to a curious reflection. When a Gascon
boasts, you love him for it; when a Prussian does it, your toes tingle
to kick him to Berlin. His very whimsical braggadocio made Paragot
adorable, and I am at a loss to think what he would have been without
Of course, said he, if you are proud, if you don't want to be
seen in the company of a scarecrow like me, there is nothing more to be
Blanquette humbly repudiated the charge of pride. Her soul was set
on her ten francs and she didn't care how she got them. She accepted
Monsieur's generous offer out of a full heart.
That's sense, said my master. We shall rehearse at daybreak.
DAWN found us all in a field some distance from the caféParagot,
Blanquette, Narcisse, the zither, the fiddle and I, and while the two
musicians rehearsed the jingly waltzes and polkas that made up the old
man's répertoire, I tried to explain the situation to Narcisse who sat
with his ears cocked wondering what the deuce all the noise was about.
Ah, Monsieur, said Blanquette, during a pause, you play like a
Didn't I tell you so? he cried triumphantly.
You must have studied much.
Prodigiously, said he.
Père Paragot had played the violin for sixty years, but he could
not make it sing like that.
You would not compare Père Paragot with my master? I exclaimed by
way of rebuke.
Blanquette acquiesced humbly.
When one hears Monsieur, one has the devil in one's body.
Listen to this, said the delighted Paragot jumping on to his feet
and tucking the fiddle beneath his chin.
And there in the pure dawn with nothing but God's sky and green
fields around us, he played Gounod's Ave Maria, putting into his
execution all his imaginative fervour, and accentuating the tremolo
passages in a vibrating ecstasy which to Blanquette's uncultured soul
was the very passion of music. I have since learned that the greatest
violinists do not overemphasise the tremolo.
Ah Dieu! it is beautiful, she murmured.
Isn't it? cried Paragot. And it touches your heart, my little
Blanquette, eh? We are all artists together.
She laughed and ran her hands over the zither strings.
I ought to be at work in the fields. So Père Paragot used to say. I
make no progressI am as stupid as a goose.
* * * * *
Two hours afterwards we started for Chambéry, as odd a procession as
ever gave food for a high-road's gaiety. From the old grey valise
carried the previous day by Blanquette she had produced much property
finery. A black velveteen jacket resplendent with pearl-buttons,
velveteen knee-breeches tied with ribbons at the knees, and a rakish
Alpine hat with a feather adorned my master's person. His own
disreputable heavy boots and a pair of grey worsted stockings may not
have formed a fastidious finish to the costume; but in my eyes he
looked magnificent. Towards the transfiguration of Blanquette a Pandora
box could not have effected more. She was attired in a short skirt, a
white fichu moderately fresh, a kind of Italian head-dress and
scarlet stockings. Enormous gilt ear-rings swung from her ears; a cable
of blue beads encircled her neck; her lips were dyed pomegranate, her
eyes darkened and her cheeks touched with rouge. A pair of substantial
gilt shoes slung over her shoulders clinked their heels together as she
walked. Narcisse barked his ecstatic admiration around this beauteous
creature, and had I been a dog I should have barked mine too. My
dignity as a man only allowed me to cast sidelong glances at her and
hope that she would soon put on the gilt shoes. As for my master, on
beholding her, he doffed his hat and saluted her with a fantastic
compliment, whereat the girl blushed brick-red and turned her head
Motley's the only wear, my son, he cried gaily. In this cap and
bells, I see life under a different aspect. Never has it appeared to me
sweeter and more irresponsible. Don't you feel it? But I forgot. You
haven't any motley. I apologise for my want of tact. Blanquette, he
added in French, why haven't you found a costume for Asticot?
Blanquette replied in her matter-of-fact way that she hadn't any.
They walked on together, and I dropped behind suddenly realising my
pariahdom. I wondered whether these magnificent beings would be ashamed
of my company when we arrived at Chambéry. I pictured myself sitting
lonesome with Narcisse in the market-place while they revelled in their
splendour, and the self-pity of the child overcame me.
Master, said I dismally, what shall Narcisse and I do while you
are at the wedding?
He wheeled round and regarded me, and I knew by the light in his
eyes that an inspiration was taking shape behind them.
I'll buy you a red shirt and pomade your hair, and you shall be one
of us, my son, and go round with the hat.
I exulted obviously.
Now the dog will feel out of it, said he, perplexed. I will
consult Blanquette. Do you think we could shave Narcisse and make him
think he's a poodle?
That would be impossible, Monsieur, replied Blanquette gravely.
As Narcisse was enjoying himself to his heart's content, darting
from side to side of the road and sniffing for the smells his soul
delighted in, I did not concern myself about his feelings.
For Paragot's suggestion which I knew was ironically directed
against myself, I did not care. So long as I was to be with my
companions and of them, irony did not matter. I caught the twinkle in
his eye and laughed. He was as joyous as Narcisse. The gladness of the
July morning danced in his veins. He pulled the violin and bow out of
the old baize bag and fiddled as we walked. It must have been an
* * * * *
And the old man whose clothes and functions we had assumed lay cold
and stiff in the little lonely room with candles at his head and his
feet. During our railway journey to Chambéry Blanquette told us in her
artless way what she knew of his history. In the flesh he had been a
crabbed and crotchety ancient addicted to drink. He had passed some
years of his middle life in prison for petty thefts. In his
youthBlanquette's mind could not grasp the idea of Père Paragot
having once been younghe must have been an astonishing blackguard. He
had been wont to beat Blanquette, until one day realising her young
strength she held him firm in her grip and threatened to throw him into
a pond if he persisted in his attempted chastisement. Since then he had
respected her person, but to the day of his death he had cursed her for
anserine stupidity. An unlovely, loveless and unloved old man. Why
should Blanquette have wept over him? She had not the Parisian's highly
strung temperament and capacity for facile emotion. She was peasant to
the core, slow to rejoice, and slow to grieve, and she had the
peasant's remorseless logic in envisaging the elemental facts of
existence. Père Paragot was wicked. He was dead. Tant mieux.
* * * * *
Blanquette had not the divine sense of humour which rainbows the
tears of the world. That was my dear master's possession. But at the
obvious she could laugh like any child of unsophistication. In the long
shaded avenue of Chambéry, with its crowded market-stalls on either
sidestalls where you saw displayed for sale rolls of calico and boots
and gauffrettes and rusty locks and melons and rosaries and flyblown
booksParagot bought me my red shirt (whichmirabile dictu!
had tasselled cords to tie the collar) and pomade for my hair. He also
purchased a yard of blue chiffon which he tied in an artistic bow round
Narcisse's neck, whereat Blanquette laughed heartily; and when Narcisse
bolted beneath a flower-stall and growling dispossessed himself of the
adornment, and set to with tooth and claw to rend it into fragments,
she threw herself on a bench convulsed with mirth. As Paragot had spent
fifty centimes on the chiffon I thought this hilarity exceedingly
ill-natured; but when another and a larger dog came up to see what
Narcisse was doing and in half a minute was whirling about with
Narcisse in a death grapple, and Blanquette sprang forward, separated
the two dogs at some risk and took our bleeding mongrel to her bosom,
consoling him with womanly words of pity, I saw there was something
tender in Blanquette which mitigated my resentment.
* * * * *
The Restaurant du Soleil, where the marriage feast was held, was an
earwiggy hostelry on the outskirts of the town, sheltered from the
prying roadway by a screen of green lattice and a series of
tonnelles, the dusty arbours, each furnished with table and chairs,
beloved of French revellers. Above the entrance gate stretched the
semi-circular sign-board bearing in addition to the name, the legend
Jardin. Noces. Fêtes. Within, a few lime-trees closely planted threw
deep shadow over the grassless garden; shrubs and flowers wilted in a
Usually the forlorn demesne was supervised by a mangy waiter
brooding over mangy tables and by a mangier cat who kept a furtive eye
on the placarded list of each day's plat du jour and wondered
when her turn would come for Thursday's Sauté de lapin. But
tables, cat and waiter cast manginess aside when we(the pride of
that day still remains and makes me italicise the word) came down to
play at the wedding of Adolphe Querlat and Léontine Bringuet.
Tiens! where is Père Paragot? asked fat Madame
Bringuetperspiring in unaccustomed corset and black bombazine.
Alas! he is no longer, Madame, explained Blanquette. He had a
seizure yesterday. He fell off his chair, and we picked him up stone
Tiens, tiens, but it is sad.
But no. It does not matter. This gentleman will make you dance much
better than Père Paragot, and she whispered encomiums into Madame's
Enchanted, Monsieur. And your name?
My master swept a courtly bow with his feathered hatno one ever
bowed so magnificently as he.
Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, cadet, at your service.
You must be hungry, Monsieur Paragotand Mademoiselle and this
little monsieur, said Madame Bringuet hospitably. We are at table in
the salle à manger. You will join us.
We entered the long narrow room and sat down to the banquet.
Heavens! what a feast! There were omelettes and geese and eels and duck
and tripe and onion soup and sausages and succulences inconceivable.
Accustomed to the Spartan fare of vagabondage I plunged into the dishes
head foremost like a hungry puppy. Should I eat such a meal as that
to-day it would be my death. Hey for the light heart and elastic
stomach of youth! Some fifty persons, the ban and arrière ban of
the relations of the young couple, guzzled in a wedged and weltering
mass. Wizened grandfathers and stolid large-eyed children ate and
panted in the suffocating heat, and gorged again. Not till half way
through the repast did tongues begin to wag freely. At last the tisane
of champagnesyrupy paradise to my uncultivated palatewas handed
round and the toasts were drunk. The bride's garter was secured amid
boisterous shouts and innuendos, and then we left the stifling room and
entered the garden, the elders to smoke and drink and gossip at the
little tables beneath the verandah, the younger folk to dance on the
uneven gravel. Young as I was, I felt grateful that no physical
exercise was required of me for some hours to come. Even Narcisse and
the cat (which followed him) waddled heavily to the verandah where we
were to play.
The signal to start was soon given. Paragot tucked his violin under
his chin, tuned up, waved one, two, three with his bow; Blanquette
struck a cord on her zither and the dance began. At first all was
desperately correct. The men in their ill-fitting broadcloth and white
ties and enormous wedding favours, the women in their tight and decent
finery, gyrated with solemn circumspection. But by degrees the music
and the good Savoy wines and the abominable cognac flushed faces and
set heads a-swimming. The sweltering heat caused a gradual discarding
of garments. Arms took a closer grip of waists. Loud laughter and free
jests replaced formal conversation; steps were performed of Southern
fantasy; the dust rose in clouds; throats were choked though
countenances streamed; the consumption of wine was Rabelaisian. And all
through the orgy Paragot fiddled with strenuous light-heartedness, and
Blanquette thrummed her zither with the awful earnestness of a woman on
whose efforts ten francs and perhaps half a goose depended. But it was
Paragot who made the people dance. To me, sitting in red shirt and
pomaded hair at his feet, it seemed as if he were a magician. He threw
his bow across the strings and compelled them to do his bidding. He was
the great, the omnipotent personage of the feast. I sunned myself in
Indeed, he had the incommunicable gift of setting his soul a-dancing
as he played, of putting the devil into the feet of those who danced.
The wedding party were enraptured. If he had consumed all the bumpers
he was offered, he would have been as drunk as a fiddler at an Irish
wake. During a much needed interval in the dancing he advanced to the
edge of the verandah and as a solo played Stephen Heller's
Tarantella, which crowned his triumph. With his unkempt beard and
swarthy face and ridiculous pearl-buttoned velveteens, there was an air
of rakish picturesqueness about Paragot, and he retained, what indeed
he never quite lost, a certain aristocracy of demeanour. Wild cries of
Bis! saluted him when he stopped. Men clapped each other on
the shoulder uttering clumsy oaths, women smiled at him largely. Madame
Bringuet, reeking in her tight gown, held up to him a brimming glass of
champagne; the bride threw him a rose. He kissed the flower, put it in
his button-hole and after bowing low drank to her health. I recalled my
childish ambition to keep a fried fish shop and despised it heartily.
If I only could play the violin like Paragot, thought I, and win the
plaudits of the multitude, what greater glory could the earth hold? The
practical Blanquette woke me from my dreams. Now was the moment, said
she, to go round with the hat. I swung myself down from the verandah,
the traditional shell (in lieu of a hat) in my hand, and went my round.
Money was poured into it. Time after time I emptied it into my bulging
pockets. When I returned to the verandah, Blanquette's eyes distended
strangely. She glanced at Paragot, who smiled at her in an absent
manner. For the moment the artist in him was predominant. He was the
centre of his little world, and its adulation was as breath to his
This is what I, the mature man, know to be the case. To me, then, he
was but the King receiving tribute from his subjects. When Paragot with
a flourish of his bow responded to the encore, I found my hand slip
into Blanquette's and there it remained in a tight grip till flushed
and triumphant he again acknowledged the applause. Nothing was said
between Blanquette and myself, but she became my sworn sister from that
moment. And Narcisse sat at our feet looking down on the crowd, his
tongue lolling out mockingly and a satiric leer on his face.
My children, said Paragot, on our return journey in the close,
ill-lighted, wooden-seated third-class compartment, we have had a
glorious day. One of those sun-kissed, snow-capped peaks that rise here
and there in the monotonous range of life. It fills the soul with
poetry and makes one talk in metaphor. In such moments as these we are
all metaphors, my son. We are illuminated expressions of the divine
standing for the commonplace things of yesterday and tomorrow. We have
accomplished what millions and millions are striving and struggling and
failing to do at this very hour. We have achieved success! We
have left on human souls the impress of our mastery! We are also all of
us dog-tired and, I perceive, disinclined to listen to transcendental
I'm not tired, master, I declared as stoutly as the effort of
keeping open two leaden eyelids would allow.
And you? he asked turning to Blanquette by his sideI occupied
the opposite corner.
She confessed. A very little. But she had listened to all Monsieur
had said, and if he continued to talk she would not think of going to
sleep. Whereupon she closed her eyes, and when I opened mine I saw that
her head had slipped along the smooth wooden back of the carriage and
rested on Paragot's shoulder. Through sheer kindliness and pity he had
put his arm around her so as to settle her comfortably as she slept. I
When she awoke at the first stoppage of the train, she started away
from him with a little gasp.
O Monsieur! I did not know. You should have told me.
I am only Père Paragot, said he. You must often have had your
head against this mountebank jacket of mine.
She misunderstood him. Her eyes flashed.
It is the first time in my lifeI swear it. She held up her two
forefingers crossed and kissed them. Père Paragot! ah non!
neither he nor another. I am an honest girl, though you may not think
My good Blanquette, said he kindly, taking her scarred coarse hand
in his, you are as honest a girl as ever breathed, and if Père Paragot
didn't let you put your sleepy little head on his shoulder he must have
been a stonier hearted old curmudgeon than you have given one to
So he soothed her and explained, while our two fellow passengers, a
wizened old peasant and his wife, regarded them stolidly.
Mon Dieu, it is hot, said Blanquette. Don't you think so,
Asticot? I wish I had a fan.
I will make you one out of the paper the fowl is wrapped in, said
Not half a goose, but a cold fowl minus half a wing had been our
supplementary guerdon. Decently enveloped in a sheet of newspaper it
lay on her lap. When he had divested it of its covering, which he
proceeded to twist into a fan, it still lay on her lap, looking
At the next station the old peasant and his wife got out and we had
the compartment to ourselves. Blanquette produced from her pocket a
handkerchief knotted over an enormous lump.
These are the takings, Monsieur. It looks small; but they changed
the coppers into silver at the restaurant for me.
It's a fortune, laughed my master.
It is much, she replied gravely, and undoing the knot she offered
him with both hands the glittering treasure. I hope you will be a
little generous, MonsieurI know it was you who gained the quête.
My good child! cried he, interrupting her and pushing back her
hands, what lunacy are you uttering? Do you imagine that I go about
fiddling for pence at village weddings?
But little imbecile, I did it to help you, to enable you to get
your ten francs and half a goose. Asticot too. Haven't you been
enchanted all day to be of service to Mademoiselle? Do you want to be
paid for wearing a red shirt with a tasselled collar and pommade in
your hair? Aren't we going about the world like Don Quixote and Sancho
Panza rescuing damsels in distress? Isn't that the lodestar of our
Yes, master, said I.
Blanquette looked open-mouthed from him to me, from me to him,
scarce able to grasp such magnanimity. To the peasant, money is a
commodity to be struggled for, fought for, grasped, prized; to be doled
out like the drops of a priceless Elixir Vitæ. Paragot had the
aristocratic, artistic scorn of it; and I, as I have said before, was
the pale reflexion of Paragot.
It is yours, I explained, as might a great prince's chamberlain,
the master gained it for you.
The tears came into her eyes. The corners of her lips went down.
Paragot turned half round in his seat and put his hands on her
If you spill tears on the fowl you will make it too salt, and I
shall throw it out of the window.
* * * * *
Paragot paid the modest funeral expenses of the worn-out fiddler.
Asked why he did not leave the matter in the hands of the communal
authorities he replied that he could not take a man's name without
paying for it. Such an appellation as Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot was
worth a deal coffin and a mass or two. This fine sense of integrity was
above Blanquette's comprehension. She thought the funeral was a waste
It should go to benefit the living and not the dead, she argued.
Wait till you are dead yourself, he replied, and see how you
would like to be robbed of your name. There are many things for you to
learn, my child.
Il n'y a pas beaucoupnot many, she said with a sigh. We
who are poor and live on the high-roads learn very quickly. If you are
hungry and have two sous you can buy bread. If you only have two sous
and you throw them to a dog who doesn't need them, you have nothing to
buy bread with, and you starve. And it is not so easy to gain two
Paragot sucked reflectively at his porcelain pipe.
Asticot, said he, the argumentum ad ventrem is
Now I must go and make my malle she said. I return to
Chambéry to try to earn my two sous.
Won't you stay here over the night? You must be very tired.
One must work for one's living, Monsieur, she said moving away.
It was afternoon. We had trudged the three dusty miles back from the
tiny churchyard where we had left the old man's unlamented grave, and
Paragot, as usual, was washing his throat with beer. It must be noted,
not to his glorification, that about this time a chronic dryness began
to be the main characteristic of Paragot's throat, and the only
humectant that seemed to be of no avail was water.
The sun still blazed and the hush of the July afternoon lay over the
valley. Paragot watched the thickset form of Blanquette disappear into
the café; he poured out another bottle of beer and addressed Narcisse
who was blinking idly up at him.
If she had a pair of decent stays, my dog, or no stays at all, she
might have something of a figure. What do you think? On the wholeno.
Narcisse stood on his hind legs, his forepaws on his master's arm,
and uttered little plaintive whines. Paragot patted him on the head.
As I was engaged a yard or two away, elbows on knees, in what
Paragot was pleased to call my studiesThierry's Récits des Temps
Mérovingiens, a tattered, flyblown copy of which he had bought at
Chambéryhe was careful not to interrupt me; he talked to the dog.
Paragot had to talk to something. If he were alone he would have talked
to his shadow; in his coffin he would have apostrophised the worms.
Yes, my dog, said he, after a draught of beer. We have passed
through more than we wotted of these two days. We have held a human
being by the hand and have faced with her the eternal verities. Now she
is going to earn her two sous in the whirlpool, and the whirlpool will
suck her down, and as she has not claims to beauty, Narcisse, of any
kind whatsoever, either of face or figure, hers will be a shuddersome
career and end. Say you are sorry for poor Blanquette de Veau.
Narcisse sniffed at the table, but finding it bare of everything but
beer, in which he took no interest, dropped on his four legs and curled
himself up in dudgeon.
You damned cynical sensualist, cried my master. I have wasted the
breath of my sentiment upon you. And he called out for the landlady
and more beer.
Presently Blanquette emerged laden with zither case and fiddle and
little grey valise and the pearl-buttoned suit which was slung over one
Monsieur, she said, putting down her impedimenta, the patronne
has told me that you have paid for my lodging and my nourishment. I am
very grateful, Monsieur. And if you will accept this costume it will be
a way of repaying your kindness.
Paragot rose, took the suit and laid it on his chair.
I accept it loyally, said he, with a bow, as if Blanquette had
been a duchess.
Adieu, Monsieur, et merci, she said holding out her hand.
Paragot stuck both his hands in his trousers pockets.
My good child, said he, you are bound straight for the most
cheerless hell that was ever inhabited by unamusing devils.
Blanquette shrugged her shoulders and spoke in her dull fatalistic
Que voulez-vous? I know it is not gay. But it is in the
métier. When Père Paragot was alive it was different. He had his
good qualities, Père Paragot. He was like a watch-dog. If any man came
near me he was fierce. I did not amuse myself, it is true, but I
remained an honest girl. Now it is changed. I am alone. I go into a
brasserie to play and dance. I can get an engagement at the Café
Brasserie Tissot, and then after a pause, turning her head away, she
added the fatalistic words she had used before: If faut passer par
là, comme les autres.
I forbid you! cried my master, striding up and down in front of
her and ejaculating horrible oaths. He invoked the sacred name of pigs
and of all kinds of other things. My attention had long since been
diverted from the learned Monsieur Thierry, and I wondered what she had
to pass through like the others. It must be something dreadful, or my
master would not be raving so profanely. I learned in after years. Of
all mutilated lives there are few more ghastly than those of the
fille de brasserie in a small French provincial town. And here was
Blanquette about to abandon herself to it with stolid, hopeless
resignation. There was no question of vicious instinct. What semblance
of glamour the life presented did not attract her in the least. A
sweated alien faces rabbit-pulling in the East End with more
I am not going to allow you to take an engagement in a brasserie!
shouted my master. Do you hear? I forbid you!
But Monsieur began Blanquette piteously.
Then Paragot had one of his sudden inspirations. He crashed his fist
on the little table so that the glass and bottles leaped and Narcisse
darted for shelter into the café.
Tron de l'air! he cried. I have it. It is an illumination.
Asticothere! Leave your book. I shall be Paragot in character as well
as name. We shall fiddle with Blanquette as we fiddled yesterdayand I
shall be a watch-dog like Père Paragot and keep her an honest girl.
We'll make it a firm, Paragot and Company, and there will always be two
sous for bread and two to throw to a dog. I like throwing sous to dogs.
It is my nature. Now I know why I was sent into the world. It was to
play the fiddle up and down the sunny land of France. My little
Asticot, why haven't we thought of it before? You shall learn to play
the trumpet, Asticot, and Narcisse shall walk on his hind legs and
collect the money. It will be magnificent!
Are you serious, Monsieur? asked Blanquette, trembling.
Serious? Over an inspiration that came straight from the bon
Dieu? But yes, I am serious. Et toi? he added sharply using
for the first time the familiar pronoun, are you afraid I will beat
you like Père Paragot?
You can if you like, she said huskily; and I wondered why on earth
she should have turned the colour of cream cheese.
NOT being content with having attached to his person a stray dog and
a mongrel boy and rendering himself responsible for their destinies,
Paragot must now saddle himself with a young woman. Had she been a
beautiful gipsy, holding fascinating allurements in lustrous eyes and
pomegranate lips, and witchery in a supple figure, the act would have
been a commonplace of human weakness. But in the case of poor
Blanquette, squat and coarse, her heavy features only redeemed from
ugliness by youth, honesty and clean teeth, the eternal attraction of
sex was absent.
From the decorative point of view she was as unlovely as Narcisse or
myself. She was dull, unimaginative, ignorant, as far removed from
Paragot as Narcisse from a greyhound. Why then, in the name of men and
angels, should Paragot have taken her under his protection? My only
answer to the question is that he was Paragot. Judge other men by
whatever standard you have to hand; it will serve its purpose in a
rough and ready manner; but Paragotunless with me idolatry has
obscured reasonParagot can only be measured by that absolute standard
which lies awful and unerring on the knees of the high gods.
Of course he saved the girl from a hideous doom. Thousands of
kindly, earnest men have done the same in one way or another. But
Paragot's way was different from anyone else's. Its glorious lunacy
lifted it above ordinary human methods.
So many of your wildly impulsive people repent them of their
generosities as soon as the magnanimous fervour has cooled. The
grandeur of Paragot lay in the fact that he never repented. He was
fantastic, self-indulgent, wastrel, braggart, what you will; but he had
an exaggerated notion of the value of every human soul save his own.
The destiny of poor Blanquette was to him of infinitely more importance
than that of the wayward genius that was Paragot. The pathos of his
point of view had struck me, even as a child, when he discoursed on my
I am Paragot, my son, he would say, a film full of wind and
wonder, fantasy and folly, driven like thistledown about the world. I
do not count. But you, my little Asticot, have the Great Responsibility
before you. It is for you to uplift a corner of the veil of Life and
show joy to men and women where they would not have sought it. Work now
and gather wisdom, my son, so that when the Great Day comes you may not
miss your destiny. And once, he added wistfullyas I have missed
* * * * *
As Paragot decided that we should not start off then and there into
the unknown but remain at the café until we had laid our plan of
campaign, Blanquette took her valise into the house, and, for the rest
of the day, busied herself in the kitchen with the patronne;
Paragot drank with the villagers in the café; and I, when Thierry and
Narcisse had given me all the companionship they had to offer, curled
myself up on the mattress spread in a corner of the tiny salle à
manger and went to sleep.
The next morning Paragot awakened with an Idea. He would go to
Aix-les-Bains which was close by, and would return in the evening. The
nature of his errand he would not tell me. Who was I, little grey worm
that I was, to question his outgoings and his incomings? The little
grey worm would stay with Blanquette and Narcisse and see to it that
they did not bite each other. I humbly accepted the rebuke and obeyed
the behest. The afternoon found the three of us in a field under a
tree; Blanquette embracing her knees, and the dog asleep with his
throat across her feet. She was wearing her old cotton dress, and as
she had been helping the patronne all the morning, her sleeves
were rolled up to her elbows displaying stout, stubby arms. The top
button of her bodice was open; she was bare-headed, but her hair,
little deeper in shade than her tanned face and neck, was coiled
neatly. Had it not been for the hard grip of the day before I should
have jealously resented her admission into our vagabond fraternity. As
it was, from the height of my sixteen-year-old masculinity I somewhat
looked down upon her: not as poor Blanquette, the zither-playing
vagrant; but as a girl. Could we, creation's lords, do with a creature
of an inferior sex in our wanderings? Could she perform our feats of
endurance? I questioned her anxiously.
Moi? she laughed, I am as strong as any man. You will
She leaped to her feet and, before I could protest, had picked me
off the ground like a kitten and was tossing me in her arms.
Voilà! she said, depositing me tenderly on the grass; and
having collected the dislodged Narcisse she embraced her knees and
laughed again. It was a kind honest laugh; a good-natured, big boy's
laugh, coming full out of her eyes and shewing her strong white teeth.
I lost the sense of insult in admiration of her strength.
You should have been a boy, Blanquette, said I.
She assented, acknowledging at once her inferiority and thus
restoring my self respect.
You are lucky, you, to be one. In this world the egg is for the men
and the shell is for the women.
Why don't you cut off your hair and put on boy's clothes? I asked.
Then you would get the egg. No one could tell the difference.
You don't think I look like a woman? I? Mon Dieu! Where are
She was actually indignant with me who had thought to please her: my
first encounter with the bewildering paradox of woman.
Ah! mais non, she panted. I may be strong like a man, but
grâce à Dieu, I don't resemble one. Look.
And she sat bolt upright, her hands at her waist developing her bust
to its full extent. She was not jolie, jolie, she explained, but
she was as solidly built as another; I was to examine myself and see
how like I was to the flattest of boards. Routed I chewed blades of
grass in silence until she spoke again.
Tell me of the patron.
The patron? I asked, puzzled.
You must call him maître, said I, not patron. For
the patron was any peddling boss, the leader of a troupe of
performing dogs or the miserable landlord of a village inn, Paragot a
I meant no harm. I have too much respect for him, said Blanquette,
Again reinstated in my position of superiority I explained the
Master to her feminine intelligence.
He has been to every place in the world and knows everything that
is to be known, and speaks every language that is spoken under the sun,
and has read every book that ever was written, and I have seen him
break a violin over a man's head.
Tiens! said Blanquette.
In the Forum at Rome last winter he had an argument with the most
learned professor in Europe who is making the excavations, and proved
him to be wrong.
Tiens! repeated Blanquette, much impressed, though of Forum
or excavations she had no more notion than Narcisse.
If he wanted to be a king tomorrow, he would only have to go up to
a throne and sit upon it.
But no, said Blanquette. To be a king one must be a king's son.
How do you know that he isn't? I asked with a could-and if-I-would
expression of mystery.
King's sons don't go about the high roads with little gamins
like you, replied the practical Blanquette.
How do you know that I am not a king's son too? I asked, less with
the idea of self-aggrandisement than that of vindication of Paragot.
Because you yourself said that your mother sold you as my mother
sold me to Père Paragot.
Whereupon it suddenly occurred to me that as far as retentiveness of
memory was concerned, Blanquette was not such a fool as in my arrogance
I had set her down to be. I was going to retort that his magnificence
in purchasing me proved him a personage of high order, but as I quickly
reflected that the same argument might apply to the rank of the
contemned Père Paragot, I refrained. A silence ensuing, I uncomfortably
resolved to study my master with a view to acquiring his skill in
But what does he do, the Master? enquired Blanquette.
Do? What do you mean?
How does he earn his living?
That shows you know nothing about him, I cried triumphantly.
King's sons do not earn their living. They have got it already.
Haven't you ever read that in books?
I can read and write, but I don't read books, sighed Blanquette.
I am not clever. You will have to teach me.
This is the book I am reading, said I, taking the Récits des
Temps Mérovingiens from my pocket.
Again Blanquette sighed. You must be very clever, Asticot.
Not at all, said I modestly, but I felt that it was nice of
Blanquette to realise the intellectual gulf between us. It is the
Master who has taught me all I know. I spoke, God wot, as if my
knowledge would have burst through the covers of an
EncyclopædiaThree years ago I could not speak a word of French.
Fancy. And now
You still talk like an Englishman, said Blanquette.
Looking back now on those absurd far-off days, I wonder whether
after all I did not learn as much that was vital from Blanquette as
from Paragot. Her downright, direct, unimaginative common-sense
amounted to genius. At the time I preferred genius in the fantastic
form which inflated my bubbles of self-conceit, instead of bursting
them; but in after life one has a high appreciation of the burster.
In the moment's mortification, however, I recriminated.
You make worse mistakes than I do. You say 'j'allons faire,'
when you ought to say 'je vais faire' and I heard you talk about
That is because I have no education, replied Blanquette, with her
grave humility. I speak like the peasants; not like instructed
peoplenot like the Master, for instance.
No one could speak like the Master, said I.
There was a long silence. Blanquette hugged her knees and Narcisse
snored at her feet, accepting her as vagabond comrade. I lay on my back
and forgot Blanquette; and out of the intricacies of myriad leaf and
branch against the sky wove pictures of Merovingian women. There where
the black branches cut a lozenge of blue was the pale Queen Galeswinthe
lying on her bed. Through yon dark cluster of under-leaves one could
discern the strangler sent by King Hilperic to murder her. And in that
radiant patch silhouetted clear and cold and fierce in loveliness was
Frédégonde waiting for the King. She was a glittering sword of a woman
whose slayings fascinated me. I much preferred her to the gentler
Brunehilde whose form I saw outlined in a soft shadow of green. I tried
to find frames in my aerial gallery for Brunehilde's two daughters,
Ingonde and Chlodoswinde, especially the latter whose name appealed to
my acquired taste for odd nomenclature, and the conscious effort
brought me back to the modern world, and the sound of Blanquette's
Tu sais, Asticot, I can wash the Master's shirts and mend
his clothes. I can also make his coffee in the morning.
Her eyes had a far-away look. She was living in the land of day
dreams even as I had been.
I always prepare the Master's breakfast, said I jealously.
It is the woman's duty.
I don't care, I retorted.
She unclasped her hands, and coming forward on to her knees and
bending over me, brushed a strand of hair from my forehead.
I will prepare yours too, Asticot, she said gently, and you will
see how nice that will be. Men can't do these things where there is a
woman to look after them. It is not proper.
So, flattered in my masculinity, being ranked with Paragot as a
man, I took a sultanesque view of the situation and graciously
consented to her proposed ministrations.
* * * * *
Paragot came back triumphant from Aix-les-Bains. Hadn't he told me
he had been inspired to go there? The man who played the violin at the
open-air Restaurant by the Lac de Bourget had just that day fallen ill.
The result, a week's engagement for Blanquette and himself.
But, my child, said he, you will have to suffer an inharmonious
son of Satan who makes a discordant Hades out of an execrable piano. He
had the impudence to tell me that he came from the Conservatoire. He,
with as much ear for music as an organ-grinder's monkey! He said to
meParagotthat I played the violin not too badly! I foresee a
hideous doom overhanging that young man, my children. Before the week
is out I will throw him into the maw of his soul-devouring piano. Ha!
my children, give me to drink, for I am thirsty.
Mindful of my dignity as a man, I glanced at Blanquette, who went
into the café obediently, while I stayed with my master. It was a sweet
moment. Paragot gripped me by the shoulder.
My son, while Blanquette and I work, which Carlyle says is the
noblest function of man, but concerning which I have my own ideas, you
cannot live in red-shirted, pomaded and otherwise picturesque and
studious laziness. Look, he cried, pointing to a round, flat object
wrapped in paper which he had brought with him. Do you know what that
That, said I, is a cake.
It is a tambourine, said my master.
* * * * *
The next day found us in the garden of the little lake-side
restaurant at Aix-les-Bains playing at lunch time. The young man at the
piano whom I had expected to see a fiend in human shape was a harmless
consumptive fellow who played with the sweet patience of a musical box.
He shook hands with me and called me cher collègue, and before
nightfall told me of a disastrous love-story in consequence of which,
were it not for his mother, he would drown himself in the lake. He
effaced himself before Paragot much as the bellows-blower does before
the organist. His politeness to Blanquette would have put to the blush
any young man at the Bon Marché or the Louvre. His name was Laripet.
I was ordered to make modest use of my tambourine until sufficient
instruction from Paragot should authorise him to let me loose with it;
I was merely to add to the picturesqueness of the group on the
platform, and at intervals to go the round of the guests collecting
money. I liked this, for I could then jingle the tambourine without
fear of reproof. You have no idea what an ordeal it is for a boy to
have a tambourine which he must not jingle. But the shady charm of the
garden compensated for the repression of noisy instincts. After months
of tramping in the broiling sun, free and perfect as it was, the easy
loafing life seemed sweet. We went little into the gay town itself. For
my part I did not like it. Aix-les-Bains consisted of a vast Enchanted
Garden set in a valley, great mountains hemming it round. Skirting the
Enchanted Garden were shady streets and mysterious palaces, some having
gardens of their own of a secondary enchantment, and shops where jewels
and perfumes and white ties and flowers and other objects of strange
luxury were exhibited in the windows. But these took the humble place
of mere accessories to the Enchanted Garden, jealously guarded against
Asticot by great high gilded railings and by blue-coated,
silver-buttoned functionaries at the gates. Within rose two Wonder
Houses gorgeous with dome and pinnacle, bewildering with gold and snow,
displaying before the aching sight the long cool stretch of verandahs,
and offering the baffling glimpse of vast interiors whence floated the
dim sound of music and laughter; and bright, happy beings, in wondrous
raiment, wandered in and out unchallenged, unconcerned, as if the
Wonder Houses were their birthright.
I, a shabby, penniless little Peri, stood at the gilded gates
disconsolate. I didn't like it. The mystery of the unknown beatitude
within the Wonder Houses oppressed me to faintness. It was
unimaginable. Through the leaves of a tree I could see the pale
Queen Galeswinthe; but through those gay enchanting walls I could see
nothing. They baulked my soul. When I tried to explain my feelings to
Paragot he looked at me in his kind, sad way and shook his head.
My wonder-headed little Asticot, said he, within those gewgaw
Wonder Houses Then he stopped abruptly and waved me away, No.
It's a devilish good thing for you to have something your imagination
boggles at. Stick to the Ideal, my son, and hug the Unexplained. The
people who have solved the Riddle of the Universe at fifteen are bowled
over by the Enigma of their cook at fifty. Plug your life as full as it
can hold with fantasy and fairy-tale, and thank God that your soul is
baulked by the Mysteries of the Casinos of Aix-les-Bains.
But what do they do there, Master? I persisted.
The men worship strange goddesses and the women run after false
gods, and all practice fascinating idolatries.
I did not in the least know what he meant, which was what he
intended. When I consulted Blanquette one morning, as she and I alone
were sauntering down the long shady avenue which connects the town with
the little-port of the lake, she said that people went into the Cercle
and the Villa des Fleurs, the two Wonder Houses aforesaid, merely to
gamble. I pooh-poohed the notion.
The Master says they are Temples of great strange gods, where
Gods! What an idea! Il n'y a que le bon Dieu, quoth
You have evidently not heard of the gods of Greece and Rome,
Jupiter and Apollo and Venus and Bacchus.
Ah, tiens, said Blanquette. I have heard Italians swear
'Corpo di Bacco.' That is why?
Of course, said I in my grandest manner, and there are heaps of
other gods besides.
All the same, she objected, I always thought the Italians were
So they may be, said I, but that doesn't prove that there are not
beautiful gods and goddesses and idols and shrines in the Cercle and
the Villa des Fleurs.
As this was unanswerable Blanquette diverted the conversation to the
less transcendental topic of the premature baldness of Monsieur
* * * * *
If the doings of the bright happy beings were hidden from me while
they worshipped in the Casinos, I at least met them at close quarters
in the garden of the Restaurant du Lac. In some respects this garden
resembled that of the Restaurant du Soleil at Chambéry. There was a
verandah round the restaurant itself, there were trees in joyous
leafage, there were little tables, and there were waiters hurrying to
and fro with napkins under their arms. But that was all the
resemblance. Our little platform stood against the railings separating
the garden from the quay. Behind us shimmered the blue lake, great
mountains rising behind; away on the right, embosomed in the green
mountainside, flashed the white Château de Hautecombe. Always in
mid-lake a tiny paddle-steamer churned up a wake of white foam. On the
quay itself stood an enchanting little boxa camera obscurato
which I as a fellow artist was given the entrée by the
proprietor, and in which one could see heavenly pictures of the
surrounding landscape; there were also idle cabs with white awnings,
and fezzed Turks perspiring under furs and rugs which they hawked for
sale. In front of us, within the garden, a joyous crowd of the
radiantly raimented laughed over dainty food set on snowy cloths. Here
and there a lobster struck a note of colour, or a ray of sunlight
striking through the red or gold translucencies of wine in a glass:
which distracted my attention from my orchestral duties and caused an
absent-minded jingle of my tambourine.
What I loved most was to make my round among the tables and mingle
closely with the worshippers. Of the men, clean and correct in their
perfectly fitting flannels, sometimes stern, sometimes mocking,
sometimes pettishly cross, I was rather shy; but I was quite at my ease
with the women, even with those whose many rings and jewels, violent
perfumes and daring effects of dress made me instinctively
differentiate from their quieter and less bejewelled sisters.
Blanquette laughingly called me a petit polisson and said that
I made soft eyes at them. Perhaps I did. When one is a hundred and
fifty it is hard to realise that one's little scarecrow boy's eyes may
have touched the hearts of women. But the appeal of the outstretched
tambourine was rarely refused.
Get out of this, the man would say.
But no. Remain. Il a l'air si drôlewhat is your name?
Je m'appelle Asticot, Madame, à votre service.
This always amused the lady. She would search through an invariably
Give him fifty centimes.
And the man would throw a silver piece into the tambourine.
Once I was in luck. The lady found a ten-franc piece in her purse.
That is all I have.
I have no change, growled the man.
If I give you this, said the lady, what would you do with it?
If Madame would tell me where to get it, I would buy a photograph
of Madame, said I, with one of Paragot's inspirations; for she was
Voilà, she laughed putting the gold into my hand. Tu me
fais la cour, maintenant. Come and see me at the Villa Marcelle and
I will give you a photograph gratis.
But Paragot when I repeated the conversation to him called the lady
shocking names, and forbade me to go within a mile of the Villa
Marcelle. So I did not get the photograph.
The next best thing I loved was to see Blanquette's eyes glitter
when I returned to the platform and poured silver and copper into her
lap. She uttered strange little exclamations under her breath, and her
fingers played caressingly with the coins.
We gain more here in a day than Père Paragot did in a week. It is
wonderful. N'est-ce pas, Maître? she said one morning.
Paragot tuned his violin and looked down on her.
Money pleases you, Blanquette?
She counted the takings sou by sou.
Yet you did not want to accept your just share.
What you make me take is not just, Master, she said, simply.
Much as she loved money, her sense of justice rebelled against
Paragot's division of the takingsa third for Laripet, a third for
Blanquette and a third for himself which he generously shared with me.
Père Paragot used to sweep into his pockets every sou and Blanquette
had to subsist on whatever he chose to allow for joint expenses. Her
new position of independence was a subject for much inward pride,
mingled however with a consciousness of her own unworthiness. Monsieur
Laripet, yes; she would grant that he was entitled to the same as the
Master; but herselfno. Was not the Master the great artist, and she
but the clumsy strummer? Was he not also a man, with more requirements
than shetobacco, absinthe, brandy and the like?
A third is too much, she added.
If you argue, said he, I will divide it in halves for Laripet and
yourself, and I won't touch a penny.
That would be idiotic, said Blanquette.
It would be in keeping with life generally, he answered. In a
comic opera one thing is not more idiotic than another. Yes, Monsieur
Laripet, we will give them Funiculi, Funiculà. I once drove in
coffin nails to that tune in Verona. Now we will set people eating to
it in Aix-les-Bainswe, Monsieur Laripet, you and I, who ought to be
the petted minions of great capitals! It is a comic opera.
One has to get bread or one would starve, said Blanquette pursuing
her argument. And to get bread one must have money. If I had all the
money you would not eat bread.
I should eat brioches, laughed Paragot quoting Marie
You always laugh at me, Master, said Blanquette wistfully.
Paragot drew his bow across the strings.
There is nothing in this comical universe I don't laugh at, my
little Blanquette, said he. I am like good old MontaigneI rather
laugh than weep, because to laugh is the more dignified.
Laripet struck a chord on the piano. Paragot joined in and played
three bars. Then he stopped short. There was not the vestige of a laugh
on his face. It was deadly white, and his eyes were those of a man who
sees a ghost.
The four bright happy beings, two ladies and two men who had just
entered the garden and at whom his stare was directed, took no notice,
but followed a bowing maître d'hôtel to a table that had been reserved
I sprang to the platform, on the edge of which I had been squatting
at Blanquette's feet.
Are you ill, Master?
He started. Ill? Of course not. Pardon, Monsieur Laripet.
He plunged into the merry tune and fiddled with all his might, as if
nothing had happened. But I saw his nostrils quivering and the sweat
running down his face into his beard.
WHEN Funiculi Funiculà was over he sat on the wooden chair
provided for him and wiped his face. His hands shook. He beckoned me to
Do I look too grotesque a mountebank Tomfool? he asked in English.
He was wearing the pearl-buttoned velveteen suit whose magnificence
he had enhanced by newly purchased steel-buckled shoes and black
stockings, and to a less bigoted worshipper than me I suppose he must
have looked a mountebank Tomfool; but I only gaped at his question.
Do I? he repeated almost fiercely.
You look beautiful, Master, said I.
He passed his lean fingers wearily over his eyes. Pardon, my little
Asticot. There are things in Heaven and Earth etc. Myriads of
Mysteries. As many in the heart of man as in your Wonder Houses yonder.
Get me some brandy. Three petits verres poured into a tumbler.
I went off to the restaurant and obtained the drink. When I returned
they were playing the mocking chorus that runs through Orphée aux
The number over, Paragot drained the glass at one gulp. The company
broke into unusual applause. Some one shouted Bis!
Get me some more, said he. Do you know why I chose that tune?
Because twenty devils entered into me and played leapfrog over one
I am very fond of that little tune. It is so gay, said Blanquette,
as if she were introducing a fresh topic of conversation.
I detest it, said my master.
The maître d'hôtel came up and asked that the chorus should be
played again as an encore. I fetched Paragot's drink and having set it
down beside him on the platform, went round with my tambourine. When I
reached the table at which the four new comers were seated I found that
they spoke English. They were a young man in a straw hat, a young girl,
a forbidding looking man of forty with a beaky nose, and the loveliest
lady I have ever seen in my life. She had the complexion of a
sea-shell. Her eyes were the blue of glaciers, and they shone cold and
steadfast; but her lips were kind. Her black hair under the large white
tulle hat had the rare bluish tinge, looking as if cigarette smoke had
been blown through it. Small and exquisitely made she sat the princess
of my boyish dreams.
I call it a ripping tune, cried the young girl.
I hate it more than any other tune in the world, said the lovely
lady with a shiver.
Her voice was like a peal of bells or running water or whatever
silvery sounding things you will.
It is very absurd to have such prejudices, said the beaky-nosed
man of forty. He spoke like a Frenchman, and like a very disagreeable
Frenchman. How dared he address my princess in that tone?
I extended my tambourine.
Qu'est-ce que vous désirez? asked the straw-hatted young
man in an accent as Britannic as the main deck of the Bellerophon.
Anything that the ladies will kindly give me, Sir, I replied in
our native tongue.
Hullo! English? What are you knocking about France for?
I glanced at the lovely lady. She was crumbling bread and not taking
the least notice of me. I was piqued.
My Master thinks it the best way to teach me philosophy, Sir, said
I politely. If I had not learned much philosophy from him I had at
least learned politeness. The lady looked up with a smile. The young
girl exclaimed that either my remark or myselfI forget whichwas
ripping. I paid little heed to her. I have always disregarded the
people of one adjective; they seem poverty-stricken to one who has
sunned himself in the wealth of Paragot's epithets.
Your master is the gentleman in the pearl buttons? enquired the
What's his name?
Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, Sir, said I so proudly that the
lovely princess laughed.
I must look at him, she said turning round in her chair.
I too glanced at the familiar group on the platform: Laripet with
his back to us, working his arms and shoulders at the piano; Blanquette
seated on the other side, thrumming away at the zither on her lap;
Narcisse lolling his tongue in that cynical grin of his; and Paragot
fiddling in front, like a fiddler possessed, his clear eyes fixed on
the lady in a most uncanny stare.
When she turned again, she shivered once more. She did not look up
but went on crumbling bread. It shocked me to notice that the pink of
her sea-shell face had gone and that her fingers trembled. Then a wild
conjecture danced through my brain and I forgot my tambourine.
You still here? laughed the young man. What are you waiting for?
I started. I beg your pardon, Sir, said I moving away. He laughed
and called me back.
Here are two francs to buy a philosophy book.
And here are five sous not to come and worry us again, said the
older man in French. While I was wondering why they tolerated such a
disagreeable man in the party my beautiful lady's fingers flew to the
gilt chain purse by her side. And here are five francs because you are
English! she exclaimed; and as she held me for a second with her eyes
I saw in them infinite depths of sadness and longing.
When I returned to the platform the piece had just been brought to
an end. Paragot poured his second brandy down his throat and sat with
his head in his hands. I shed, as usual, my takings into Blanquette's
lap. On seeing the five-franc piece her eyes equalled it in size.
Tiens! Cent sous! who gave it you?
I explained. The most beautiful lady in the world. Paragot raised
his head and looked at me haggardly.
Why did she give you five francs?
Because I was English, she said.
Did she talk to you?
Yes, Master, and I have never heard anyone speak so beautifully.
Paragot made no answer, but began to tune his violin.
During the next interval my quartette left the restaurant. I ran to
the gate, and bowed as they passed by.
The young fellow gave me a friendly nod, but the lovely lady swept
out cold-eyed, looking neither to right nor left. A large two-horsed
cab with a gay awning awaited them on the quay. As my lady entered, her
skirt uplifted ever so little disclosed the most delicately shaped,
tiny foot that has ever been attached to woman, and then I felt sure.
Those little feet so adored. The haunting phrase leaped to my
brain and I stood staring at the departing carriage athrill with
It was Joannalovelier than I had pictured her in my Lotus Club
dreams, more gracious than Ingonde or Chlodoswinde or any of the
belles dames du temps jadis whose ballade by Maître François Villon
my master had but lately made me learn by heart and whose names were so
many sweet symphonies. It was Joanna, pure and ravishing as an April
dawn; Joanna beloved of Paragot in those elusive days when I could not
picture him, before he smashed his furniture with a crusader's mace and
started on his wanderings under the guidance of Henri Quatre. It was
Joanna whom he had an agonized desire to see in Madrid and whose
silvery English voice he had longed to hear. And I, Asticot, had seen
her and had heard her silvery voice. Among boys assuredly I was the
But Paragot seemed that day of all men the most miserable, and I
more dog-like than Narcisse in my sympathy with his moods, almost
lifted up my nose and whined for woe. All my thrill died away. I felt
guilty, oddly ashamed of myself. I took a pessimistic view of life.
What, thought I, are Joannas sent into the world for, save to play
havoc with men's happiness? Maître François Villon was quite right.
Samson, Sardanapalus, David, Maître François himself, all came to grief
over Joannas. Bien heureux qui rien n'y a. Happy is he who has
nothing to do with 'em.
As soon as we were free Paragot left us, and went off by himself;
whereupon I, mimetic as an ape, rejected the humble Blanquette's
invitation to take a walk with her, and strolled moodily into the town
with Narcisse at my heels. A dog fight or two and a Byronic talk with a
little towheaded flower-seller who gave me a dusty bunch of
cyclamenas a porte-bonheur she said prettilywhiled away the
time until the people began to drift out of the Wonder Houses to dress
for dinner. I lingered at the gates, going from one to the other, in
the unavowed hope, little idiot that I was, of seeing Joanna. At last,
at the main entrance to the Villa des Fleurs I caught sight of Paragot.
He had changed from the velveteens into his vagabond clothes, and was
evidently on the same errand as myself. I did not venture near,
respecting his desire for solitude, but lounged at the corner of the
main street and the road leading down to the Villa, playing with
Narcisse and longing for something to happen. You see it is not given
every day to an impressionable youngster, his brain stuffed with
poetry, pictures, and such like delusive visionary things, to tumble
head first into the romance of the actual world. For the moment the
romance was at a standstill. I longed for a further chapter. It was a
pity, I reflected, that we did not live in Merovingian times. Then
Paragot and I could have lain in wait with our horseseveryone had
horses in knightly daysand when Joanna came near, we should have
killed the beaky-nosed man, and Paragot would have swung her on his
saddlebow and we should have galloped away to his castle in the next
kingdom, where Paragot, and Joanna and I, with Blanquette to be
tirewoman to our princess, would have lived happy ever after. What I
expected to get for myself, heaven knows: it did not strike me that
perennial contemplation of another's bliss might wear out the stoutest
Then suddenly out of the door of the Villa came two ladies, one of
whom I recognised as Joanna and the other as the young girl of the
luncheon party. The façade of the villa stretches across the road and
is about a hundred yards from the corner. I saw Paragot stand rigid,
and make no sign of recognition as she passed him by, with her head up,
like a proud queen. I felt an odd pain at my heart. Why was she so
cruel? Her eyes were of the blue of glaciers, but all the rest of her
face had seemed tender and kind. I was aware, in a general way, that
radiantly attired ladies do not shake hands with ragamuffins in public
places, but you must please to remember that I no more considered
Paragot a ragamuffin than I thought Blanquette the equal of Joanna.
Paragot to me was the peer of kings.
I turned away sorrowing and sauntered up the little street that
leads to the Etablissement des Bains. I was disappointed in Joanna and
did not want to see her again. She should be punished for her cruelty.
I sat down on one of the benches on the Place, and looking at the
Mairie clock stolidly thought of supper. They made famous onion soup at
the little auberge where we lodged, and Paragot, himself a connoisseur,
had pronounced their tripes à la mode de Caen superior to
anything that Mrs. Housekeeper had executed for the Lotus Club. Besides
I was getting hungry. With youth a full heart rarely compensates an
empty stomach, and now even my heart was growing empty.
Presently who should emerge into the Place but the two ladies. I sat
on my bench and watched them cross. They were evidently going up the
hill to one of the hotels behind the Etablissement. In her white dress
and white tulle hat coloured by three great roses, with her beautiful
hair and sea-shell face and swaying supple figure, she looked the
incarnation of all that was worshipful in woman. I could have knelt and
prayed to her. Why was she so cruel to my master? I regarded her with
mingled reproach and adoration. But the mixed feeling gave place to one
of amazement when I saw her separate from her companion, who continued
her way up the hill, and strike straight across the Place in my
She was coming to me.
I rose, took off my ragged hat and twirled it in my fingers, which
was the way that Paragot had taught me to be polite in France.
I want to speak to you, she said quickly. You are the boy with
the tambourine, aren't you?
Paragot had threatened to shoot me if I called any young lady
What is the name of thethe gentleman who played the violin?
Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot.
That is not his real name?
No, Mademoiselle, said I.
What is it?
I don't know, said I. This is a new name; he has only had it a
How long have you known him?
A long, long time, Mademoiselle. He adopted me when I was quite
You are not very big now, she said with a smile.
I am nearly sixteen, said I proudly.
To herself she murmured, I don't think I can be mistaken.
In a different tone she continued, You spoke some nonsense about
his being your master and teaching you philosophy.
It wasn't nonsense, I replied stoutly. He teaches me everything.
He teaches me history and Shakespeare and François Villon, and painting
and Schopenhauer and the tambourine.
Her pretty lips pouted in a little gasp of astonishment as she
leaned on her long parasol and looked at me.
You are the oddest little freak I have come across for a long
I smiled happily. She could have called me anything opprobrious in
that silvery voice of hers and I should have smiled. Now I come to
think of it smile is the wrong word. The man smiles, the boy grins. I
Has your master always played the violin in orchestras like this?
Oh, no, Mademoiselle, said I. Of course not. He only began four
What was his employment till then?
Why, none, said I.
It seemed absurd for Paragot to have employment like a man behind a
shop-counter. I remembered acquaintances of my mother's who were out
of employment and their unspeakable vileness. Then, echo of Paragot
(for what else could I be?), I added: We just walk about Europe for
the sake of my education. My master said I was to learn Life from the
Book of the Universe.
The lovely lady sat down.
I believe you are nothing more nor less than an amazing little
parrot. I'm sure you speak exactly like your master.
Oh, no, Mademoiselle, said I modestly, I wish I could. There is
no one who can talk like him in all the world.
She gave me a long, steady, half-frightened look out of her blue
eyes. I know now that I had struck a chord of memory; that I had
established beyond question in her mind Paragot's identity with the man
who had loved her in days past; that old things sweet and terrifying
surged within her heart. Even then, holding their secret, I saw that
she had recognised Paragot.
You must think me a very inquisitive lady, she said, with a forced
smile; but you must forgive me. What you said this morning about your
master teaching you philosophy interested me greatly. One thing I
should like to know, and she dug at the gravel with the point of her
parasol, and that I hardly like to ask. Is heare youvery poor?
Poor? It was a totally new idea. Why, no, Mademoiselle; he has a
great bank in London which sends him bank-notes whenever he wants them.
I once went with him. He has heaps of money.
The lady rose. So this going about as a mountebank is only a
masquerade, she said, with a touch of scorn.
He did it to help Blanquette, said I.
The girl who plays the zither. My master has adopted her too.
Oh, has he? said the lady, the blue of her eyes becoming frosty
again. I dimly perceived that in mentioning Blanquette I had been
indiscreet. In what respect, I know not. I had intended my remark to be
a tribute to Paragot's wide-heartedness. She took it as if I had told
her of a crime. Women, even the loveliest of dream Joannas, are a
mystifying race. Bien heureux qui rien n'y a.
Goodbye, she said.
She must have read mortification in my face, for she turned after a
step or two, and said more kindly.
You're not responsible, anyway. Then she paused, as if hesitating,
while I stood hat in hand, as I had done during our conversation.
I wonder if I can trust you.
She took her purse from the bag hanging at her waist and drew out a
I will give you this if you promise not to tell your Master that
you have spoken to me this afternoon.
I shrank back. Remember I had been for three years in the hourly
companionship of a man of lofty soul for all his waywardness, and he
had modelled me like wax to his liking. The gold piece was tempting. I
had never owned a gold piece in my lifeand all the frost had melted
from Joanna's eyes. But I felt I should be dishonored in taking money.
I promise without that, I said.
She put the coin back in her purse and held out her delicately
Promise with this, then, she said.
And then I knew for the first time what an exquisite sensitive thing
is a sweet, high-bred lady. Only such a one could have performed that
act of grace. She converted me into a besotted little imbecile
weltering in bliss. I would have pledged my soul's welfare to execute
any phantasmagoric behest she had chosen to ordain.
I am leaving Aix tomorrow morningbut if you are ever in any
troubleby the way what is your name?
Asticot Pradel, said I, reflecting for the first time that though
Polydore Pradel had perished and Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot reigned in
his stead, my own borrowed or invented name remained unaltered.
Augustus Smith lingered in my memory as a vague, mythical creature of
Joanna smiled. You are a little masquerader too. Wellif you are
ever in any trouble, and I can help youremember the Comtesse de
Verneuil, 7 Avenue de Messine, Paris.
This offer of friendship took my breath away. I grinned stupidly at
her. I was also puzzled.
What is the matter? she laughed.
The Comtesse de Verneuil?but you are English, I stammered.
Yes. But my husband is French. He is the Comte de Verneuil.
Remember 7 Avenue de Messine.
She nodded graciously and turned away leaving a stupefied Asticot
twirling his hat. Her husband! And I had been calling her Mademoiselle
all the time! And I had been weaving fairy tales of our riding off with
her to Paragot's castle! She was married. Her husband was the Comte de
Verneuil! Worse than that. Her husband was the disagreeable beaky-nosed
man who gave me five sous to go away.
A sense of desolation, disaster, disillusionment overwhelmed me. I
sat on the bench and burst out crying and Narcisse jumped up and licked
IT was nearly midnight when Paragot returned to our inn on the
outskirts of the town. He reeled up to the doorstep where I sat in the
moonlight awaiting his return.
Why aren't you in bed?
It was too hot and I couldn't sleep, Master, said I. As a matter
of fact I had been dismally failing to compose a poem on Joanna after
the style of Maître François Villon. Just as youthful dramatists begin
with a five act tragedy, so do youthful poets begin with a double
ballade. In order to eke out the slender stock of rhymes to Joanna, I
had to drag in Indianna which somehow didn't fit. I remember also that
she showered her favours like manna, which was not very original.
Paragot seated himself heavily by my side.
The moon has a baleful influence, my son, said he in a thick
voice. And you'll come under it if you sit too long beneath its
effulgence. That's what has happened to me. It makes one talk
He just missed concertina-ing the last two words, and looked at me
with an air of solemn triumph.
It isn't the Man in the Moon's fault, my little Asticot, he
continued. I've been having a very interesting conversation with him.
He is a most polite fellow. He said if I would go up and join him he
would make room for me. It's all a lie, you know, about his having been
sent there for gathering sticks on a Sunday. He went of his own accord,
because it was the only place where he could be four thousand miles
away from any woman. Think of it, little Asticot of my heart. There are
lots of lies told about the moon, he says. He looks down on the earth
and sees all of us little worms wriggling in and out and over one
another and thinking ourselves so important and he cracks his sides
with laughing; and your bald-headed idiots with spyglasses take the
cracks for mountain ranges and volcanoes. I'm going to live in the
moon, away from female feminine women, and if you are good my son, you
shall come too.
I explained to him as delicately as I could that I should regard
such a change rather as a punishment than as a reward. He broke into a
You toowith the milk of the feeding-bottle still wet on your
lips? The trail of the petticoat's over us all! What has been putting
the sex feminine into your little turnip-head? Have you fallen in love
No, Master, said I. When I fall in love it will be with a very
Paragot pointed upwards. I see another crack in my friend's sides.
We all fall in love with beautiful ladies, my poor Asticot, one after
the other, plunging into destruction with the comic sheep-headedness of
the muttons of Panurge. Another woolly one over? Ho! ho! laughs the man
in the moon, and crack go his sides.
The door opened behind us and the proprietor of the auberge appeared
on the threshold.
Give me half a litre of red wine, Monsieur Bonnivard, cried
Paragot. I am the descendant of Maître Jehan Cotard whose throat was
so dry that in this world he was never known to spit.
Bien, Monsieur, said the patron.
Paragot filled his porcelain pipe and lit it with clumsy fingers,
and did not speak till his wine was brought.
My son, we are leaving Aix the first thing in the morning.
I started up in alarm. We had not finished our engagement at the
Restaurant du Lac.
I care no more for the Restaurant du Lac than for the rest of the
idiot universe, he declared.
But Blanquetteit would break her heart.
All women's hearts can be mended for twopence.
They have to go about with them broken, my son, and the pieces
clank and jangle and chink and jingle inside like a crate of broken
crockery. We leave Aix tomorrow.
But Master, I cried, there is no necessity.
What do you mean?
She is leaving Aix herself tomorrow.
She! he shouted, quite sober for the moment. Who the devil do you
mean by 'she'?
I upbraided myself for a vain idiot. Here was I on the point of
breaking my oath sworn on Joanna's hand. I felt ashamed and frightened.
He grasped my shoulder roughly.
Who do you mean by 'she'? Tell me.
The Lady of the Lake, Master, said I.
He looked at me for a moment keenly, then relaxed his grip and
shrugged his shoulders with the ghost of a laugh.
If you see holes in ladders in this perspicacious fashion you'll
have to forsake the paths of art for the higher walks of the Prefecture
He puffed silently at his pipe for a few moments and then turning
his head away asked me in a low voice:
How can you know that she is leaving tomorrow?
I lied for the first time to Paragot.
I overheard her say so while I was waiting with the tambourine.
This seemed to satisfy him, to my great relief. How my poor little
oath would have fared under cross examination I don't know. At any rate
honour was saved. Paragot laid aside his pipe and looked wistfully into
the past over his wine bowl.
The Lady of the Lake, he murmured. I have called her many things
good and bad in my time, but never that. You are a genius, my little
He finished his wine slowly, holding the bowl in both hands. The
moon smiled at us in a friendly way, sailing high over the mountains.
There entered my head the novel reflection that he was smiling on all
men alike, the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. He was
smiling just the same on Joanna's beaky-nosed husband.
Her husband! Something caught at my heart. Did Paragot know? I
debated anxiously in my mind whether I should impart the disastrous
information. If he knew that she was a married woman he would put
foolish thoughts out of his head, for it was only in Merovingian and
such like romantic epochs that men loved other men's wives. I touched
him timidly on the arm.
Master,I overheard something else.
She is married, and that is her husband.
Did he take off his hat?
He is a scaly-headed vulture, said Paragot dreamily.
He only gave me five sous, said I, relieved and yet disappointed
at finding that my disclosure produced no agitation.
Paragot fumbled in his pocket. We will not batten on his charity,
said he, and he cast three or four coppers into the silent street. They
crashed, rolled and fell over with little chinks. Narcisse who had
hitherto been asleep trotted out and sniffed at them. Paragot laughed;
then checked himself, and holding up a long-nailed forefinger looked at
me with an air of awful solemnity.
Listen to the wisdom of Paragot. There is not a woman worth a clean
man that does not marry a scaly-headed vulture.
He murmured an incoherence or two, and there was then a long
silence. Presently his head knocked sharply against the lintel. I
Master, it won't be good for us to sit any longer in the
He turned a glazed look on me. Minerva's Owl, said he, I am quite
aware of it.
He rose and lumbered into the inn, and I, having guided him up the
narrow staircase to his room, descended to my bunk in a corner of the
tiny salon. My sleeping arrangements were always sketchy.
In the morning when I questioned him as to our departure from Aix,
he affected not to understand, and told me that I had been dreaming and
that the moonshine had affected my brain.
Consider, my son, said he, that when I returned last night, I
found you fast asleep on the doorstep, and you never woke up till this
From this I gathered that for the second time he had dosed the book
of his life to my prying though innocent eyes. I also learned the
peculiar difference between Philip drunk and Philip sober.
When our engagement at Aix was at an end, the proprietor of the
restaurant desired to renew it, but Paragot declined. The sick
violinist whom we had replaced had recovered and Paragot had seen him
on the quay looking through the railings with the hungry eyes of a sort
of musical Enoch Arden. Blanquette had some little difficulty in
preventing him from rushing out there and then and delivering his
fiddle into the other's hands. It was necessary to be reasonable, she
Nom de Dieu! he cried, if I were reasonable I should be
lost. Reason would set me down in Paris with gloves and an umbrella.
Reason would implant a sunny smile on my face above the red ribbon of
the Legion of Honour. It would marry me to the daughter of one of my
confrères at the Académie des Beaux Arts. It would make me
procreate my species, cré nom de Dieu! It would make me send you
and Asticot and Narcisse to the devil. If I were reasonable I should
not be Paragot. The man who lives according to reason has the heart of
But out of regard for Blanquette he served his time faithfully at
the Restaurant du Lac, and reconciled his conscience with reason by
giving the hungry violinist his own share of the takings. It was only
when Blanquette suggested the further exploitation of Aix that he
showed his Gascon obduracy. If there was one place in the world where
the soul sickened and festered it was Aix-les-Bains. Mammon was King
thereof and Astarte Queen. He was going to fiddle no more for sons of
Belial and daughters of Aholah. He had set out to travel to the Heart
of Truth, and the way thither did not lead through the Inner Shrine of
Dagon and Astaroth. Blanquette did not in the least know what he was
talking about, and I only had a vague glimmer of his meaning. But I see
now that his sensitive nature chafed at the false position. Among the
simple village folk he was a personality, compelling awe and
admiration. Among the idlers of Aix, whom in his loftiness he despised,
he was but the fiddling mountebank to whom any greasy wallower in
riches could cast a disdainful franc.
So once more we took to the high road, and Paragot threw off the
depressing burden of Mammon (Joanna) and became his irresponsible self
I have but confused memories of our fantastic journeyings. Stretches
of long white road and blazing sun. Laughing valleys and corn fields
and white farmsteads among the trees. Now and then a village fête or
wedding at which we played to the enthusiasm of the sober vested
peasantry. Nights passed in barns, deserted byres, on the floor of
cottages and infinitesimal cafés. Hours of idleness by the wayside
after the midday meal, when the four of us sat round the fare provided
by Blanquette, black bread, cheese, charcuterie and the eternal bottle
of thin wine. It was rough, but there was plenty. Paragot saw to that,
in spite of Blanquette's economical endeavours. Sometimes he would
sleep while she and I chatted in low voices so as not to wake him. She
told me of her wanderings with the old man, the hardness of her former
life. Often she had cried herself to sleep for hunger, shivering in wet
rags the long night through. Now it was all changed: she ate too much
and was getting as fat as a pig. Did I not think so? Voilà! In
her artless way she guided my finger into her waistband and then
swelled herself out like the frog in the fable to prove the increase in
her girth. She spoke in awestricken whispers of the Master himself.
Save that he was utterly kind, impulsive, generous, boastful, and
according to her untrained ear a violinist of the first quality, she
knew not what manner of man he was. She had enough imagination to feel
vaguely that he had dropped from vast spaces into her narrow world. But
he was a mystery.
Once, the previous summer, as she was resting by the roadside with
the old man, even as we were doing then, an amiable person, she told
me, with easel and stool and paint-box, came along and requested their
permission to make an oil sketch of them. While he painted he
conversed, telling them of Sicily whither he was going and of Paris
whence he came. In a dim way she associated him with Paragot. The two
had the same trick of voice and manner, and held unusual views as to
the value of five francs. But the amiable painter had been a gentleman
elegantly dressed, such as she saw in the large towns driving in cabs
and consuming drinks in expensive cafés, whereas the Master was attired
like a peasant and slept in barns and did everything that the elegantly
dressed gentlemen in cafés did not do. At all events she was penetrated
with the consciousness of a loftier mind and spirit, and she contented
herself even as I did with being his devoted slave.
Often too she spoke of her own ambitions. If she were rich she would
have a little house of her own. Perhaps for company she would like
someone to stay with her. She would keep it so clean, and would mend
all the linen, and do the cooking, and save to go to market, would
never leave it from one year's end to the other. A good sleek cat to
curl up by the fireside would complete her felicity.
But Blanquette! I would cry. The sun and the stars and the high
road and the smell of spring and the fields and the freedom of this
lifeyou would miss them.
J'aime le ménage, moi, she would reply, shaking her head.
Of all persons I have ever met the least imbued with the vagabond
instinct was the professional vagabond Blanquette de Veau.
Sometimes, instead of sleeping, Paragot would talk to us from the
curious store of his learning, always bent on my education and desirous
too of improving the mind of Blanquette. Sometimes it was Blanquette
who slept, Narcisse huddled up against her, while Paragot and I read
our tattered books, or sketched, or discussed the theme which I had
written overnight as my evening task. It was an odd school; but though
I could not have passed any examination held by the sons of men, I
verily believe I had a wider culture, in the truest sense of the word,
than most youths of my age. I craved it, it is true, and I drank from
an inexhaustible source; but few men have the power of directing that
source so as to supply the soul's need of a boy of sixteen.
Well, wellI suppose Allah Paragot is great and Mahomet Asticot is
* * * * *
We wandered and fiddled and zithered and tambourined through France
till the chills and rains of autumn rendered our vagabondage less
merry. The end of October found us fulfilling a week's engagement at a
brasserie on the outskirts of Tours. Two rooms over a stable and a
manger in an empty stall below were assigned to us; and every night we
crept to our resting places wearied to death by the evening's work.
I have always found performance on a musical instrument exhausting
in itself: the tambourine, for instance, calls for considerable
physical energy; but when the instrument, tambourine, violin or zither,
is practised for several hours in a little stuffy room filled with
three or four dozen obviously unwashed humans, reeking with bad tobacco
and worse absinthe, and pervaded by the ghosts of inferior meals, it
becomes more penitential than the treadmill. A dog's life, said
Paragot. Whereat Narcisse sniffed. It was not at all the life for a
philosopher's dog, said he.
On the morning of the last day of our engagement, Blanquette entered
Paragot's bedchamber as usual, with the bowls of coffee and hunks of
coarse bread that formed our early meal. I had risen from my manger and
crept into Paragot's room for warmth, and while he slept I sat on the
floor by the window reading a book. As for Blanquette she had dressed
and eaten long before and had helped the servant of the café to sweep
and wash the tables and make the coffee for the household. It was not
in her peasant's nature to be abed, which, now I come to think of it,
must be a characteristic of the artistic temperament. Paragot loved it.
He only woke when Blanquette brought him his coffee. Ordinarily he
would remonstrate with picturesque oaths at being aroused from his
slumbers, and having taken the coffee from her hands, would dismiss her
with a laugh. He observed the most rigid propriety in his relations
with Blanquette. But this morning he directed her to remain.
Sit down, my child; I have to speak to you.
As there was no chair or stool in the uncomfortable roomit had
lean-to walls and bare dirty boards and contained only the bed and a
tableshe sat obediently at the foot of the bed next to Narcisse and
folded her hands in her lap. Paragot broke his bread into his coffee
and fed himself with the sops by means of a battered table-spoon. When
he had swallowed two or three mouthfuls he addressed her.
My good Blanquette, I have been wandering through the world for
many years in search of the springs of Life. I do not find them by
scraping catgut in the Café Brasserie Dubois.
It would be better to go to Orléans, said Blanquette. We were at
the Café de la Couronne there last winter and I danced.
Not even your dancing at Orléans would help me in my quest, said
I don't understand, murmured Blanquette looking at him helplessly.
Have the kindness, said he, pointing to the table, to smash that
confounded violin into a thousand pieces.
Mon Dieu! What is the matter? cried Blanquette.
It does not please me.
I know it is not a good one, said Blanquette. We will save money
until we can buy a better.
I would execrate it were it a Stradivarius, said he, his mouth
full of sop. Asticot, he called, don't you loathe your tambourine?
Yes, Master, I replied from the floor.
Do you love playing the zither?
But no, Maître, said Blanquette.
Why then, said my master, should we pursue a career which is
equally abominable to the three of us? We are not slaves, nom d'un
We must work, said Blanquette, or what would become of us?
Paragot finished his coffee and bread and handed the bowl to
Blanquette who nursed it in her lap, while he settled himself snugly
beneath the bedclothes. The autumn rain beat against the dirty little
window and the wind howled through chinks and crevices, filling the
room with cold damp air. I drew the old blanket which I had brought
from my manger-bed closer round my shoulders. Blanquette with her
peasant's indifference to change of temperature sat unconcerned in her
thin cotton dress.
But what will become of us? she repeated.
I shall continue to exist, said he.
But I, what shall I do?
You can fill my porcelain pipe, and let me think, replied Paragot.
She rose in her calm obedient way and, having carried out his
orders, reseated herself at the foot of the bed.
You are the most patient creature alive, said he, otherwise you
would not be contented to go on playing the zither, which is not a very
exhilarating instrument, my little Blanquette. I am not patient, and I
am not going to play the violin again for a million years after
tonight, and the violin is superior to the zither.
Blanquette regarded him uncomprehending.
If I were a king I would live in a palace and you should be my
housekeeper. But as I am a ragged vagabond too idle to work, I am
puzzled as to the disposal of you.
She grew very white and rose to her feet.
I understand. You are driving me away. If it is your desire I will
earn my living alone. Je ne vous serai pas sur le dos.
For all her vulgar asseveration that she would not be on his back,
her manner held a dignity which touched him. He held out his hand.
But I don't drive you away, little idiot, he laughed. On the
contrary. You are like Asticot and Narcisse. You belong to me. But
Asticot is going to learn how to become an artist, and Narcisse when he
is bored can hunt for fleas. You are a young woman; things must arrange
themselves differently. But how? Voilà tout!
It is very simple, said Blanquette.
Dame! I can work for you and Asticot.
The devil! cried Paragot.
But yes, she went on earnestly. I know that men are men, and
sometimes they do not like to work. It happens very often. Tiens!
mon maître, I am alone, all that is most alone. You are the only
friends I have in the world, you and Asticot. You have been kinder to
me than any one I have ever met. I put you in my prayers every night.
It is a very little thing that I should work for you, if it fatigues
you to scrape the fiddle in these holes of cabarets. It is true. True
as the bon Dieu. I would tear myself into four pieces for you.
Je suis brave fille, and I can work. But no! she cried, looking
deep into his eyes. You can't refuse. It is not possible.
Yes, I refuse, said Paragot.
He had turned on his side, face on palm, elbow on pillow, had
regarded her sternly as she spoke. I saw that he was very angry.
For what do you take me, little imbecile? Do you know that you
insult me? I to be supported by a woman? Nom de Dieu de Dieu!
His ire blazed up suddenly. He cursed, scolded, boasted all in a
breath. Blanquette looked at him terrified. She could not understand.
Great tears rolled down her cheeks.
But I have made you angry, she wailed.
The scornful spurning of her devotion hurt her less than the sense
of having caused his wrath. The primitive savage feminine is not
complicated by over-subtlety of feeling. As soon as she could speak she
broke into repentant protestation. She had not meant to anger him. She
had spoken from her heart. She was so ignorant. She would tear herself
into four pieces for him. She was brave fille. She was alone and
he was her only friend. He must forgive her.
I, feeling monstrously tearful, jumped to my feet.
Yes, Master, forgive her.
He burst out laughing. Oh what three beautiful fools we are!
Blanquette to think of supporting two hulking men, I to be angry, and
Asticot to plead tragically as if I were a tyrant about to cut off her
head. My little Blanquette, you have touched my heart, and who touches
the heart of Paragot can eat Paragot's legs and liver if he is hungry
and drink his blood if he is thirsty. I will remember it all my life,
and if you will bring me my déjeuner I will stay in bed till this
Then I am not to leave you? she asked, somewhat bewildered.
Good heavens no! he cried. Because I am sick of fiddling do you
suppose I am going to send you adrift? We shall settle down for the
winter. Some capital. Which one would you like, Asticot?
Buda-Pesth, said I at random.
Very well, said Paragot, the day after tomorrow we start for
Buda-Pesth. Now let me go to sleep.
We took exactly two months getting to Buda-Pesth. The only incident
of our journey which I clearly remember is a week's sojourn at the farm
of La Haye near Chartres where we had carted manure, and where we
renewed our acquaintance with Monsieur and Madame Dubosc.
IN Buda-Pesth three things happened.
First, Paragot slipped in the street and broke his ankle bone, so
that he lay seven weeks in hospital, during which time Blanquette and I
and Narcisse lived like sparrows on the housetops, dazed by the
incomprehensibilities of the strange city.
Secondly, Paragot's aunt, his mother's sister, died intestate
leaving a small sum of money which he inherited as her nearest
Thirdly, Paragot fell into the arms of Theodor Izelin the painter,
an old friend of Paris student days.
The consequences of the first accident, though not immediate, were
lasting. Paragot walked for ever afterwards with a slight limp, and his
tramps along the high-roads of Europe had to be abandoned.
The consequence of the second was that Paragot went to London. Some
legal formality, the establishment of identity or what not,
necessitated his presence. I daresay he could have arranged matters
through consuls and lawyers and such-like folk, but Paragot who was
childishly simple in business matters obeyed the summons to London
As a consequence of the third I became an inmate of the house of
It was all very bewildering.
It was arranged that during Paragot's absence in England I should
board with Izelin, Blanquette with Izelin's elderly model, a lady of
unimpeachable respectability and a rough and ready acquaintance with
the French language, and that Narcisse should alternate between the two
establishments. Paragot's business concluded, he would return to
Buda-Pesth, collect us and go whither the wind might drift him. I was
provided with a respectable outfit and with detailed instructions as to
correct behaviour in a lady's house. Theodor Izelin's wife was a
Everything was arranged; but who could reckon on Paragot?
On the night before his departureindeed it must have been two or
three in the morningParagot burst into my little attic bedroom,
candle in hand, and before I had time to rub my startled eyes, sat down
on the bed and began to speak.
My son, said he, I have had an inspiration!
Who but Paragot would have awakened a boy at two or three in the
morning to announce an inspiration? And who but Paragot would alter the
course of human lives on the flash of an impulse?
It came, he cried, while I was supping with Izelin. I told him. I
worked it all out. He agreed. So it is settled.
What, Master? I asked, sitting up. His slouch felt hat and his
swarthy bearded face, his glittering eyes and the candle on his knees
gave him the air of an excited Guy Fawkes.
Your career, my son. The money I am going to collect in London
shall be devoted to your education. You shall learn to paint, infant
Raphael and Izelin shall teach you. And you shall learn the manners of
a gentleman, and Madame Izelin shall teach you. And you shall learn
what it is to have a heart, and if you care a hang for Paragot two
years' separation shall teach you.
Two years! I cried aghast. But master I can't live two years here
We find we can live without a devil of a lot of things when we have
to, my son. When I smashed my furniture with the crusader's mace I
thought I could not live anywhere withoutsomething. But here I am as
alive as a dragon-fly.
He went on talking. It was for my good. His broken ankle bone had
compelled him to resign his peripatetic tutorship in the University of
the Universe. In a narrower Academy he would be but a poor instructor.
If he had taught me to speak the truth and despise lies and shams, and
to love pictures and music and cathedrals and books and trees and all
beautiful things, nom de Dieu! he had accomplished his mission.
It was time for other influences. When an inspiration such as tonight's
came to him he took it as a command from a Higher Power (I am convinced
that he believed it), against which he was powerless.
Providence ordains that you stay here with the Izelins. Afterwards
you shall go to Janot's studio in Paris. In the meantime you can attend
classes in the humanities at Buda-Pesth.
I can't understand the beastly language! I grumbled.
You will learn it, my son.
No one ever speaks it out of Hungary, I contended.
My son, said he, the value of a man is often measured by his
useless and fantastic attainments.
Then the candle end sputtered out and we were in darkness. Paragot
bade me good night, and left me to a mingled sense of burned candle
grease and desolation.
He departed the next day. Blanquette and I with a dejected Narcisse
at our heels, walked back from the railway station to the hotel, where
losing all sense of manly dignity I broke down crying and Blanquette
put her arm round my neck and comforted me motherwise.
Two months afterwards Paragot wrote to Blanquette to join him in
Paris, and when the flutter of her wet handkerchief from the railway
carriage window became no longer visible, then indeed I felt myself to
be a stranger in a strange land.
* * * * *
Two years! I can remember even now their endless heartache. The
Izelins were kind; Madame Izelin, a refined Hungarian lady, became my
staunch friend as well as my instructress in manners; my life teemed
with interests, and I worked like a little maniac; but all the time I
longed for Paragot. Had it not been for his letters I should have
scented my way back to him like a dog, across Europe. Ah those letters
of ParagotI have them stillwhat a treasury they are of grotesque
fantasy and philosophic wisdom! They gave me but little news of his
doings. He had settled down in Paris with Blanquette as his
housekeeper. His floridly anathematised ankle kept him hobbling about
the streets while his heart was chasing butterflies over the fields. He
had founded a coenaculum for the cultivation of the Higher Conversation
at the Café Delphine. He had taken up Persian and was saturating
himself with Hafiz and Firdusi. His health was good. Indeed he was a
man of iron constitution.
Blanquette now and then supplemented these meagre details of
objective life. The master had taken a bel appartement. There
were curtains to his bed. Food was dear in Paris. They had been to
Fontainebleau. Narcisse had stolen the sausages of the concierge. The
Master was always talking of me and of the great future for which I was
destined. But when I became famous I was not to forget my little
Blanquette. I see the sprawling mis-spelt words now: Il ne fot
jamés oublié ta petite Blanquette.
As if I could ever forget her!
I arrived in Paris one evening a day or two earlier than I was
expected. It had been ordained by Paragot that I should break my
journey at Berlin, in order to visit that capital, but affection tugged
at my heart-strings and compelled me to travel straight through from
Buda-Pesth. It was Paragot and Blanquette and Narcisse that I wanted to
see and not Berlin.
Yet when I stepped out of the train on to the Paris platform, I was
conscious for the first time of development. I was decently attired. I
had a bag filled with the garments of respectability. I had money in my
pocket, also a packet of cigarettes. A porter took my luggage and
enquired in the third person whether Monsieur desired a cab. The
temptation was too great for eighteen. I took the cab in a lordly way
and drove to No. 11 Rue des Saladiers where Paragot had his bel
appartement. And with the anticipatory throb of joy at beholding my
beloved Master was mingled a thrill of vain-glorious happiness. Asticot
in a cab! It was absurd, and yet it seemed to fall within the divine
fitness of things.
The cab stopped in a narrow street. I had an impression of tall
houses looking fantastically dilapidated in the dim gas-light, of
little shops on the ground floor, and of little murky gateways leading
to the habitations above. Beside the gateway of No. 11 was a small
workman's drinking shop, sometimes called in Paris a zinc on
account of the polished zinc bar which is its principal feature.
Untidy, slouching people filled the street.
Directed by the concierge to the cinquième à gauche, I
mounted narrow, evil smelling, badly lighted stairs, and rang at the
designated door. It opened; Blanquette appeared with a lamp in her
Mais c'est moi, Blanquette.
In another minute she had ushered me in, set down the lamp and was
hugging me in her strong young arms.
But my little Asticot, I did not know you. You have changed. You
are no longer the same. Tu es tout à fait monsieur! How proud
the Master will be.
Where is he?
Alas, the Master did not expect me to-day and was at the Café
Delphine. She would go straightway and tell him. I must be tired and
hungry. She would get me something to eat. But who would have thought I
should have come back a monsieur! How I had grown! I must see
the appartement. This was the salon.
I looked around me for the first time. Nothing in it save the
rickettiness of a faded rep suite arranged primly around the walls, and
a few bookshelves stuffed with tattered volumes suggested Paragot. The
round centre table, covered with American cloth, and the polished floor
were spotless. Cheap print curtains adorned the windows and a cage
containing a canary hung between them. Three or four oleographsone a
portrait of Garibaldiin gilt frames formed the artistic decoration.
It was I who chose the pictures, said Blanquette proudly.
She opened a door and disclosed the sleeping chamber of the Master,
very bare, but very clean. Another door led into the kitchena slip of
a place but glistening like the machine room of a man-of-war.
I have a bedroom upstairs, and there is one also for you which the
Master has taken. Come and I will show you.
We mounted to the attics and I was duly installed.
I would have put some flowers if I had known you were coming, said
We went down again and she prepared food for me, her plain face
beaming as she talked. She was entirely happy. No one so perfect as the
Master had ever been the head of a household. Of course he was untidy.
But such was the nature of men. If he did not make stains on the floor
with muddy boots and lumps of meat thrown to Narcisse, and litter the
rooms with clothes and tobacco and books, what occupation would there
be for a housekeeper? As it was she worked from morning to night. And
the result; was it not neat and clean and beautiful? Ah! she was happy
not to be playing the zither in brasseries. All her dreams were
realised. She had a ménage. And she had the Master to serve. Now
would she fetch him from the Café Delphine.
* * * * *
Half an hour afterwards he strode into the room, followed by
Blanquette and Narcisse. He spoke in French and embraced me French
fashion. Then he cried out in English and wrung me by the hand. He was
almost as excited as Narcisse who leaped and barked frantically.
It is good to have him back, eh Blanquette?
Oui, Maître. He does not know how sad it has been without
Blanquette smiled, wept and removed the remains of my supper. Then
she set on the table glasses and a bottle of tisane they had
bought on the way home. We drank the sour sweet champagne as if it were
liquid gold and clinked glasses, and with Narcisse all talked and
barked together. It was a glad home-coming.
Paragot had changed very little. The hair on his temple was
beginning to turn grey and his sallow cheeks were thinner. But he was
the same hairy unkempt creature of prodigious finger nails and
disreputable garments, still full of strange oaths and picturesque
fancy, and still smoking his pipe with the porcelain bowl.
Presently Blanquette retired to bed and Paragot and I talked far
into the night. Before we separated, with a comprehensive wave of the
hand he indicated the primly set furniture and polished floor.
Did you ever behold such exquisite discomfort?
HOW far away it all seems; Paris; the Rue des Saladiers: the
atelier Janot where the illustrious painter called us his children
and handed us the sacred torch of his art for us to transmit, could we
but keep it aflame, to succeeding generations; the Café Delphine, with
Madame Boin, fat, pink, urbane, her hair a miracle of perrukery,
enthroned behind the counter; my dear Master, Paragot, himself! How far
away! It is not good to live to a hundred and fifty. The backward vista
down the years is too frighteningly long.
I found Paragot established as the Dictator of the Café Delphine. No
one seemed to question his position. He ruled there autocratically,
having instituted sundry ordinances disobedience to which had exile as
its penalty. The most generous of creatures, he had nevertheless
ordained that as Dictator he should go scot-free. To have declined to
pay for his absinthe or choucroute would have closed the Café
Delphine in a student's face. He had a prescriptive right to the table
under the lee of Madame Boin's counter, and the peg behind him was
sacred to his green hat. To the students he was a mystery. No one knew
where he lived, how he subsisted, what he had been. Various rumours
filled the Quartier. According to one he was a Russian Nihilist
escaped from Siberia. Another, and one nearer the mark, credited him
with being a kind of Rip van Winkle revisiting old student scenes after
a twenty years' slumber. He seemed to pass his life between the
Luxembourg Gardens, the Pont Neuf and the Café Delphine. Paris, he
used to say, it is the Boul' Mich'! Although he would turn to the
absolute stranger who had been brought as a privilege to his table and
say, using the familiar second person singular, Buy me an evening
paper, or addressing the company at large, Somebody is going to offer
me an absinthe, and promptly order it, he was never known to borrow
This eccentricity vexed the soul of the Quartier, where the
chief use of money is to be borrowed. To me the idea of Paragot asking
needy youngsters for the loan of five francs was exquisitely ludicrous;
I am only setting down the impression of the Quartier regarding
him. Not only did he never borrow but sometimes gave whole francs in
charity. One evening an unseemly quarrel having arisen between two
law-students from Auvergne (the Boeotia of France) and the waiter as to
an alleged overcharge of two sous, Paragot arose in wrath, and dashing
a louis on the table with a Hercule paie-toi, stalked
majestically out of the Café. A deputation waited on him next day with
the object of refunding the twenty francs. He refused (naturally) to
take a penny. It would be a lesson to them, said he, and they meekly
accepted the rebuke.
But what did you study here, before you went to sleep? an impudent
believer in the Rip van Winkle theory once asked him.
The lost arts of discretion and good manners, mon petit,
retorted Paragot, with a flash of his blue eyes which scorched the
The students paid his score willingly, for in his talk they had full
value for their money. I found the Café Delphine a Lotus Club, with a
difference. Instead of being the scullion I was a member, and took my
seat with the rest, and, though none suspected it, paid for Paragot's
drinks with Paragot's money. Our real relations were never divulged. It
would affect both our positions, said he. To explain our friendship, it
was only necessary to say that we had met at Buda-Pesth where I had
been sent to study with the famous Izelin, who was a friend of
My son, said he, the fact of your being an Englishman who has
studied in Buda-Pesth and speaks French like a Frenchman will entitle
you to respect in the Quartier. Your previous acquaintance with
me, on which you need not insist too much, will bring you distinction.
And so it turned out. I felt that around me also hung a little air
of mystery, which was by no means unprofitable or unpleasant. To avoid
complications, however, and also in order that I should have the
freedom befitting my man's estate and my true education in the
Quartier, Paragot threw me out of the nest in the Rue des
Saladiers, and assigning to me a fixed allowance bade me seek my own
shelter and make my way in the world.
I made it as best I could, and the months went on.
* * * * *
Why I should have been dreaming outside the Hôtel Bristol that
afternoon, I cannot remember. If to Paragot Paris was the Boulevard
Saint-Michel, to me it spread itself a vaster fairyland through which I
loved to wander, and before whose magnificences I loved to dream. Why
not dream therefore in the Place Vendôme? Surely my aspirations in
those days soared as high as the Column, and surely the student's garb
(beloved and ordained by Paragot)the mushroom-shaped cap, the tight
ankled, tight throated velveteensrendered any eccentricity a
commonplace. Early Spring too was in the air, which encourages the
young visionary. Spruce young men and tripping modistes with
bandboxes under their arms and the sun glinting over their trim bare
heads hurried along through the traffic across the Place and landed on
the pavement by my side. I must own to have been not unaffected by the
tripping milliners. Why should they not weave themselves too into a
painter lad's spring visions?
Suddenly a ladyof so radiant a loveliness as to send modistes
packing from my heademerged from the Hôtel Bristol and crossed the
broad pavement to a waiting victoria. She had eyes like the blue of
glaciers and the tenderest mouth in the world. She glanced at me. A
floppy picturesque Paris student, lounging springlike in the Place
Vendôme, is worth a fair lady's glance of curiosity. I raised my cap.
She glanced at me again, haughtily; then again, puzzled; then stopped.
If I don't know you, you are a very ill-bred young man to have
saluted me, she said in French. But I think I have seen you before.
If I had not met you before I should not have bowed. You are the
Comtesse de Verneuil, said I in English, very boyishly and eagerly.
The spring and the sight of Joanna had sent the blood into my pasty
I once played the tambourine at Aix, I added.
She grew suddenly pale, put her hand to her heart and clutched at a
bunch of Parma violets she was wearing. They fell to the ground.
No, no, it is nothing, she said, as I stepped forward. Only a
slight shock. I remember you perfectly. You said your name was Asticot.
I asked you to come and see me. Why haven't you?
You said I might come if I were in want. But thanks to my dear
Master I am not. I picked up the violets.
Your master? She looked relieved, and thanked me with a smile for
the flowers. He is well? He is with you in Paris? Is he still playing
He is well, said I. He is in Paris, but he only plays the violin
at home when, as he says, he wants to have a conversation with his
The frost melted from her eyes and they smiled at me.
You have caught his trick of talking.
You once called me an amazing parrot, Madame, said I. It is quite
In the meantime, said she, we can't stand in the Place Vendôme
for ever. Come for a drive and we can talk in the carriage.
In the I gasped stupefied, pointing to the victoria.
Why not? she laughed. Do you think it's dangerous?
No, said I, but
But she was already in the carriage; and as I stepped in beside her
I noted the tips of her little feet so adored by Paragot.
I'm glad you're English, she remarked, arranging the rug. A young
Frenchman would have replied with the obvious gallantry. I think the
young Englishman rather despises that kind of obviousness.
The coachman turned on his seat and asked whither he should drive
Madame la Comtesse.
Anywhere. I don't knowthen desperately, Drive to the
fortifications. Where the fortifications are I haven't the remotest
idea. I believe they are a kind of pleasure resort for people who want
to get murdered. You hear of them in the papers. We'll cross the
river, she said to the coachman.
We started, drove down the Rue Castiglione, along the Rue de Rivoli,
struck off by the Louvre and over the Pont Neuf. Standing in
conversation with Joanna, I had the gutter urchin's confidence of the
pavement, the impudence of the street. Seated beside Madame la Comtesse
de Verneuil in an elegant victoria I was as dumb as a fish, until her
graciousness set me more at my ease. As we passed through the
Quartier I trembled lest any of my fellow students should see me.
Asticot avec une femme du monde chic! Il court les bonnes fortunes ce
sacré petit diable. Ou l'as-tu pêchée? I shivered at their
imagined ribaldries. And all the time I was athrill with pride and
joysuffused therewith into imbecility. Verily I must be a monsieur
to drive with Countesses! And verily it must be fairyland for Asticot
to be driving in Joanna's carriage.
That is Henri Quatre, said she pointing to the statue as we
crossed the bridge.
It was the first thing my Master brought me to see in Parisyears
ago, I said, with the very young's curious mis-realisation of time.
He is very fond of Henri Quatre.
Why? she asked.
I told her vaguely the story of the crusader's mace. She listened
with a somewhat startled interest.
I believe your Master is mad, she remarked. Indeed, she added
after a pause, I believe everyone is mad. I'm mad. You're mad.
Oh, I am not, I cried warmly.
You must be to set up a human god and worship him as you do your
Master. You are the maddest of all of us, Mr. Asticot.
A touch of light scorn in her tone nettled me. Even Joanna should
not speak of him irreverently.
If he had bought you from your mother for half-a-crown, said I,
and made you into a student at Janot's, you would worship him too,
I have been wondering whether you kept your promise to me, she
saidI wish women were not so disconcertingly irrelevantbut now I
am quite sure.
Of course I didn't tell my master, I declared stoutly.
Good. And this little drive must be a secret too.
If you wish, I said. But I don't like to have secrets from him.
Give me his address, she said after a pause, and I noticed she
spoke with some effort. Does he still go by that absurd name? What was
His name is Berzélius Paragot, and he lives at No. 11 Rue des
Do you know his real name?
Yes, Madame, said I. It is Gaston de Nérac. I only learned it
lately through Monsieur Izelin.
Do you know Izelin, too? she asked.
I explained my stay in Buda-Pesth. I also mentioned Monsieur
Izelin's reticence in speaking of Paragot's early days.
I think he was cautioned by my Master.
And who do you think I am? The sudden question startled me.
You, said I, are Joanna.
Indeed? How long have you known that, pray?
When I came to you with the tambourine at Aix-les-Bains.
I don't understand, she said, the frozen blue coming into her
eyes. Did he tell you thena child like you?
He has never mentioned your name to me, Madame, I said eagerly,
for I saw her resentment.
Then how did you know?
I recounted the history of the old stocking. I also mentioned
Paragot's appeal to me as a scholar and a gentleman.
A wan smile played about her lips.
Was that soon after he bought you for half-a-crown?
Yes, Madame, said I.
And an old stocking?
Yes, Madame. And since then we have never spoken of the papers.
But how did you know I was thethe Joanna of the papers?
I guessed, said I. I could not tell her of the petits pieds si
You are an odd boy, she said. Tell me all about yourself.
Unversed in woman's wiles I flushed with pleasure at her flattering
interest. I did not perceive that it was an invitation to tell her all
about Paragot. I related, however, artlessly the story of my life from
the morning when I delivered my tattered copy of Paradise Lost to
Paragot instead of the greasy washing book: and if my narrative glowed
rosier with poetic illusion than the pages on which it has been set
down, pray forgive nineteen for seeing things in a different light and
perspective from a hundred and fifty. In my description of the Lotus
Club, for instance, I felt instinctively that Madame de Verneuil would
wince at the sound of tripe; I conveyed to her my own childish
impression of the magnificence of Paragot's bedchamber, and the story
of our wanderings became an Idyll of No Man's Land.
And what is he doing now? We had grown so confidential that we
He is cultivating philosophy, said I.
Perhaps it was a sign of my development that I could detect a little
spot of clay in my idol.
We had gone south, past the Observatoire to Montrouge, and had
turned back before I realised that we were in the Boulevard
Saint-Michel again near the prearranged end of my drive.
Do you know why I am so glad to have met you to-day? she asked. I
thinkindeed I know I can trust you. I am in great trouble and I have
an idea that your Master can help me.
She looked at me so earnestly, so wistfully, her face seemed to grow
of a sudden so young and helpless, that all my boy's fantastic chivalry
My Master would lay down his life for you, Madame, I cried. And
so would I.
Even if I never, never, in this world forgave him?
You would forgive him in the next, Madame, I answered, scarce
knowing what I said, and he would be contented.
The carriage stopped at the appointed place. I felt as if I were
about to descend from the side of an Olympian goddess to sordid
humanity, to step from the Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon on
to the common earth. It was I who looked wistful.
May I come to see you, Madame?
The quick fear came into her eyes.
Not as yet, Mr. Asticot, she said holding out her hand. My
husband is queer tempered at times. I will write to you.
The carriage drove off. For the second time she had left me with her
husband on her lips. I had forgotten him completely. I stamped my foot
on the pavement.
He is a scaly vulture, said I, echoing Paragot. Gods! How I hated
the poor man.
* * * * *
One evening, about a week after this, some seven or eight of us were
gathered around Paragot's table at the Café Delphine. Two were
rapinswe have no word for the embryo paintermy companions in
Janot's atelier. Of the rest I only remember onepoor Cazalet.
He wore a self-tailored grotesque attire, a brown stuff tunic girt at
the waist by a leathern belt, shapeless trousers of the same material,
and sandals. He had long yellow hair and untrimmed chicken fluff grew
casually about his face. A sombre genius, he used to paint dark
writhing horrors of souls in pain, and in his hours of relaxation to
drink litres of anisette. At first he disliked and scoffed at me
because I was an Englishman, which grieved me sorely, for I regarded
him as the greatest genius, save Paragot, of my acquaintance. I found
him ten years afterwards a sous-chef de gare on the Belgian
It was about half past eleven. Our table gleamed a motley wilderness
of glasses and saucers. Only two other tables were occupied: at the one
two men and a woman played manille, on the other a pair of
players rattled dominoes, Madame Boin, sunk into her rolls of fat,
drowsed on her throne behind the counter. Hercule stood by, his dirty
napkin tucked under his arm, listening to Paragot's discourse. Through
the glass side of the café one could see the moving, flaring lights of
the Boulevard Saint-Michel. Paragot sipped absinthe and smoked his
eternal pipe with the porcelain bowl, and talked.
The Quartier Latin! Do you call this bourgeois-stricken
aceldama the Quartier Latin? Do you miserable little white mice
in clean shirts call this the Vie de Bohème? Is there a devil of
a fellow among you, save Cazalet whose chilblains make him indecent,
who doesn't wear socks? Haven't you all dress suits? Aren't you all
suffocating with virtue? Would any Marcel of you lie naked in bed for
two days so that Rodolfe could pawn your clothes for the wherewithal to
nurse Mimi in sickness? Is there a Mimi in the whole etiolated
But yes, mon vieux, said my friend Bringard who prided
himself on his intimacy with life. There are even a great many.
Paragot swept his skinny fingers in a circular gesture.
Where are they? Here? You see not. It is a stunted generation, my
gentle little lambs. Why sacré nom de Saint-Antoine! he cried,
with one of his apposite oaths, the very pigs in the good days could
teach you lessons in the romantic. Vices you havebut the noble
passions? No! Did you ever hear of the Café du Cochon Fidèle? Of course
not. What do you know? It was situated in the Rue des Cordiers. Mimi la
Blonde was the demoiselle du comptoir. Ah bigre! There
are no such demoiselles du comptoir now. Exquisite. Ah! He blew
a kiss from the tips of his long nails.
You are very impolite, Monsieur Paragot, cried Madame Boin from
Listen, Madame, said he, to the story of the pig and you shall
judge. The whole quartier was mad for Mimi, including a pig. Yes, a
great fat clean pig with sentimental eyes. He belonged to the
charcutier opposite. I am telling you the authentic history of the
Quartier. Every day the devoted animal would stand at the door and
gaze at Mimi with adorationah! but such an adoration, my children, an
adoration, respectful, passionate, without hope. Only now and then his
poor sensitive snout quivered his despair. Sometimes happier rivals,
with two legs, mais pour ça pas moins cochons que lui, admitted
him into the café. He would sit before the counter, his little tail
well arranged behind him, his ears cocked up politely, his eyes full of
tearshe wept like a cow this poor Népomucènethey called him
Népomucèneand when Mimi looked at him he would utter little cries of
the heart like a strangulated troubadour. Ah, it was hopeless this
passion; but for one long year he never wavered. The Quartier
respected him. Of him it was said: Love is given to us as a measure to
gauge our power of suffering. Suddenly Mimi disappeared. She married a
certain Godiveau, a charcoal merchant in the vicinity. Népomucène stood
all day by the door with haggard eyes. Then knowing she would return no
more, he walked with a determined air to the roadway of the Boul' Mich'
and cast himself beneath the wheels of an omnibus. He committed
Paragot stopped abruptly and finished his absinthe. There was
vociferous applause. I have never met anyone with his gift of magical
narration. Hercule was summoned amid a confused hubbub and received
orders for eight or nine different kinds of drink. We were fantastic in
our potations in those days.
Ah! said Paragot, excited as usual by his success, ou sont les
neiges d'antan? Where is the good Père Cordier of the Café Cordier?
He would play billiards with his nose, and a little pug nose at that,
my children. When it grew greasy he would chalk it deliberately. Once
he made a break of two hundred and forty-five. A champion! The Café
Cordier itself? Swept long ago into the limbo of dear immemorable
dissolute things. Then there was the Café du Bas-Rhin on the Boul'
Mich' where Marie la Démocrate drank fifty-five bocks in an evening
against Hélène la Sévère who drank fifty-three. Where are such women
now, O generation of slow worms? Where is
He stopped. His jaw dropped. My God! he exclaimed in English,
rising from his chair. We followed his gaze. Astounded, I too sprang
It was the Comtesse de Verneuil standing in the doorway and looking
in her frightened way into the café: Joanna in dark fitting toque and
loose jacket beneath which one saw a gleaming high evening dress. I
noted swiftly that she had violets in her toque. Her beauty, her rare
daintiness compelled a stupefied silence. I sped towards the door and
went with her into the street. A closed carriage stood by the kerb.
She took me by the front of my loose jacket and twisted it
Get him out, Mr. Asticot. Tell him I must see him.
But how did you come here? I asked.
I went first to the Rue des Saladiers. The servant told me I should
find him at the Café Delphine.
I left her outside, and re-entering, met him in the middle of the
Café, grasping his green hat in one hand and the pipe with the
porcelain bowl in the other. All eyes were turned anxiously towards us.
She has come for you, Master, I whispered. She needs you. Come.
What does she want with me? It was all over and done with thirteen
years ago. His voice shook.
She is waiting, said I.
I drew him to the door and he obeyed me with strange docility. He
drew a deep breath as soon as we emerged on to the wind-swept pavement.
Yes, said he.
They remained looking at each other for several seconds, agitated,
neither able to speak.
You were very cruel to me long ago, she said at last.
My Master remained silent; the wooden stem of the pipe snapped
between his fingers and the porcelain bowl fell with a crash to the
Very cruel, Gaston. But you can make a little reparation now, if
I repair my cruelty to you? He laughed as men laugh in great pain.
Very well. It will be a fitting end to a topsy-turvy farce. What can I
do for Madame la Comtesse?
My husband is ill. Come to him. My carriage is here. Oh, put on
your hat and don't stand there French fashion, bareheaded. We are
We are what you will, said my Master putting on his hat. At
present however I am mystified by your lighting on me in the dustbin of
Paris. You must have done much sifting.
I will tell you as we drive, she said.
I walked with them across the pavement and opened the carriage door.
Goodnight, Mr. Asticot, said Madame la Comtesse holding out her
Paragot looked from me to her, shrugged his shoulders and followed
her into the carriage. My master had many English attributes, but in
the shrug, the pantomime of Kismet, he was exclusively French.
Mais dis donc, Asticot, said Blanquette holding a half
egg-shell in each hand while the yolk and white fell into the bowl,
who was the lady that came last night and wanted to see the Master?
You had better ask him, said I.
I have done so, but he will not tell me.
What did he say?
He told me to ask the serpent. I don't know what he meant, said
I explained the allusion to the curiosity of Eve.
But, objected the literal Blanquette, there is no serpent in the
Rue des Saladiersunless it is you.
You have beaten those eggs enough, I remarked.
You can teach me many things, but how to make omelettesah no!
All right, said I, when your inordinate curiosity has spoiled the
thing, don't blame me.
She is very pretty, said Blanquette.
Pretty? She is entirely adorable.
Blanquette sighed. She must have a great many lovers.
Blanquette! cried I scandalised, she is married.
Naturally. If she weren't she could not have lovers. I wish I were
only half as beautiful.
The lump of butter cast into the frying-pan sizzled, and Blanquette
sighed again. I must explain that I had come, as I often did, to share
Paragot's midday meal, but as he was still abed, Blanquette had enticed
me into her tiny kitchen. The omelette being for my sole consumption I
may be pardoned for my interest in its concoction.
So that you could be married and have lovers? I asked in a
Too many lovers make life unhappy, she replied sagely. If I were
pretty I should only want oneone to love me for myself.
And for what are you loved now?
For my omelettes, she said with a deft turn of the frying-pan.
Blanquette, said I, je t'adore.
She laughed with an es-tu bête! and ministered to my wants
as I sat down to my meal at a corner of the kitchen table. She loved
this. Great as was her pride in the speckless and orderly salon, she
never felt at her ease there. In the kitchen she was herself, at home,
and could do the honours as hostess.
Do you think the beautiful lady is in love with the Master?
You have been reading the feuilletons of the Petit
Journal and your head is full of sentimental nonsense, I cried.
It is not nonsense for a woman to love the Master.
Oho! I exclaimed teasingly, perhaps you are in love with him
She turned her back on me and began to clean a spotless casserole.
Mange ton omelette, she said.
My meal over, I went to Paragot's room. I found him in bed, not as
usual pipe in mouth and a tattered volume in his hand, but lying on his
back, his arms crossed beneath his head, staring into the white
curtains of which Blanquette was so proud.
My son, said he, after he had enquired after my welfare and my
lunch and advised me as to cooling medicaments wherewith to mitigate a
certain pimplous condition of cheek, My son, I want you to make me a
promise. Swear that if a hitch occurs in your scheme of the cosmos, you
will not break up your furniture with a crusader's mace. Such a
proceeding has infinite consequences of effraction. It disrupts your
existence and ends with the irreparable smash of your porcelain pipe.
Whereupon he asked me for a cigarette and began to smoke reflectively.
One ought to order one's scheme so that no hitch can occur, said
As far as I can gather from the theologians that is beyond the
power even of the Almighty, said Paragot.
Blanquette appeared with the morning absinthe.
The hitch, my son, in my case was beyond mortal control, he said
looking up at the bed-curtains. You may think that I caused it in the
first place. You heard me last night accused of cruelty. You, discreet
little image that you are, know more about things than I thought. And
yet you must wonder, now that you are nearly a man, what can be, what
can have been between this disreputable hairy scallywag who is eating
the bread of idleness and, with a sip of his absinthe, drinking the
waters of destruction, and that fair creature of dainty life. Don't
judge anyone, my little Asticot 'Hi sumus, qui omnibus veris falsa
quædam esse dicamus, tanta similitudine, ut in iis nulla insit certe
judicandi et assentiendi nota.' That is Cicero, an author to whom I
regret I have not been able to introduce you, and it means that the
false is so mingled with the true and looks so like it, that there is
no sure mark whereby we may distinguish one from the other. It is a
damned fool of a world.
In this chastened mood I left him.
I learned later in the day that the appearance of the Comtesse in
the Café Delphine and the exodus of Paragot had caused no small
sensation. Cazalet had peeped through the glass door.
Cré nom de nom, she is driving him off in her own carriage!
He returned to the table and drank a glass of anisette to steady his
nerves. Who was the lady? Evidently Paragot was leading a double life.
Madame Boin nodded her head mysteriously as though possessed of secrets
she would not divulge. They spent the evening in profitless conjecture.
The fact remained that Paragot, the hairy disreputable scallywag, had
relations with a high born and beautiful woman. It was stupefying.
C'était abracadabrant! That was the final word. When the Quartier
Latin calls a thing abracadabrant there is no more to be said.
The Café Delphine was far from being the school of discretion and
good manners that Paragot frequented in his youth, but such was his
personal influence that when he reappeared in his usual place no one
dared allude to the disconcerting incident. Paragot had recovered from
the chastened mood and was gay, Rabelaisian, and with great gestures
talked of all subjects under heaven. One of the International
Exhibitions was in prospect and many architects' offices were busy with
projects for the new buildings. A discussion on these having
arisentwo of our company were architectural studentsParagot
declared that the Exhibition would be incomplete without a Palais de
Dipsomanie. Indeed it should be the central feature.
Tiens! he cried, I have an inspiration! Some one give me a
soft black pencil. Hercule, clear the table.
He caught the napkin from beneath Hercule's arm and as soon as the
glasses were removed, he dried the marble top, and holding the pencil
draughtsman's fashion, a couple of inches from the point, began to draw
with feverish haste. His long fingers worked magically. We bent over
him, holding our breath, as gradually emerged the most marvellous,
weird, riotous dream of drunken architecture the world could ever
behold. There were columns admirably indicated, upside down. The domes
looked like tops of half inflated balloons. Enormous buttresses
supporting nothing leaned incapable against the building. Bottles and
wine cups formed part of the mad construction. Satyrs' heads leered
instead of windows. The whole palace looked reeling drunk. It was a
tremendous feat of imagination and skill. The hour that he spent in
elaborating it passed like five minutes. When he had finished he threw
down his pencil.
Then he called for his drink and emptied the glass at a gulp. We all
clamoured our admiration.
But Paragot, cried one of the architectural students in
considerable excitement, you are a trained architect, and a great
architect! It is the work of a genius. Garnier himself could not have
Paragot whipped up the napkin from the seat and, before we could
protest, rubbed the drawing into a black smudge.
I am a poet, painter, architect, musician and philosopher, mon
petit Bibi, said he, and my name is Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot.
It was growing late and we all rose in a bodyexcept Paragot, who
made a point of remaining after everyone had gone. He caught me by the
Stay a bit to-night, my little Asticot, said he.
Usually he would not allow me to remain late at the Café. It was bad
for my health; and indeed I was not supposed to waste my time thus more
than two evenings a week. Paragot did not include my seeing him make a
Helot of himself as part of my education. This was the theory at the
back of his mind. In practice it had occurred at intervals since the
days (or nights) of the Lotus Club.
Paragot ordered another drink. It was astonishing, said he, how
provocative of thirst was any diversion from the ordinary course of
If the pig of the Café Cordier had been human, he remarked, he
would have sat down and consumed intoxicating liquors instead of
throwing himself under the wheels of an omnibus. My son, he said with
solemn eyes, reverence that pig. It is few of us who have his courage
He went on talking for some time in a semi-coherent strain, clouding
over with dim allusions the vital idea which, I verily believe, had I
been a kind woman of the world instead of a raw youth of nineteen, he
would have crystallised with flaming speech. I could only listen to him
dumbly, vaguely divinatory through my love for him and I suppose
through a certain temperamental sensitiveness, but alas!
uncomprehending by reason of my inexperience in the deeps of life.
Presently he announced that he was ready to start. He walked
somewhat unsteadily to the door, his hand on my shoulder.
My little son Asticot, said he on the threshold, I am so far on
my road to immortality that I ought to have vine-leaves in my hair;
instead of which I have wormwood in my heart. Will you kindly take me
to the Pont Neuf.
But dear Master, said I, what on earth are you going to do
I have something important to say to Henri Quatre.
You can say it better, I urged, in the Rue des Saladiers.
To the Pont Neuf, said he brusquely, pushing me away.
I had to humour him. We started up the Boulevard Saint-Michel. It
was drizzling with rain.
Master, we had better go home.
He did not reply, but strode on. I have a catlike dislike of rain. I
bear it philosophically, but that is all. To carry on a conversation
during a persistent downpour is beyond my powers. I might as well try
to sing under water. Paragot, who ordinarily was indifferent to the
seasons' difference, and would discourse gaily in a deluge, walked on
in silence. We went along amid the umbrella-covered crowd, past the
steaming terraces of cafés, whose lights set the kiosques in a steady
glare and sent shafts of yellow from the tops of stationary cabs, and
caught the wet passing traffic in livid flashes, and illuminated faces
to an unreal significance; down the gloom-enveloped, silent quais
frowned upon by the dim and monstrous masses of architecture, guarding
the Seine like phantasmagorical bastions, none visible in outline, but
only felt looming in the rain-filled night, until we reached the statue
of Paragot's tutelary King. And the rain fell miserably.
We were wet through. I put my hand on his dripping sleeve.
Master, let me see you home.
He shook me off roughly.
You can go.
But dear Master, I implored. He put both hands behind his head and
threw out his arms in a great gesture.
Boy! Can't you see, cried he, that I am in agony of soul?
I bent my head and went away. God knows what he said to Henri
Quatre. I suppose each of us has a pet Gethsemane of his own.
* * * * *
One night, a few weeks later, Blanquette appeared in my little
student's attic. Fired by the example of some of my comrades at Janot's
who showed glistening five-franc pieces as the rewards of industry, I
was working up a drawing which I fondly hoped I could sell to a comic
paper. Youth is the period of insensate ambitions.
I put down my charcoal as Blanquette entered, bare-headedwise
girl, she scorned hats and bonnetsand as neatly dressed as her figure
daily growing dumpier would allow. She was laughing.
Guess what your concierge said.
That it was improper for you to come to see me at this hour of the
Improper? Bah! cried Blanquette, for whom such conventions existed
not. But she told me that it was un joli petit amant that I had
upstairs. What an idea! She laughed again.
You find that funny? I asked, my dignity somewhat ruffled. I
suppose I am as pretty a little lover as anyone else.
But you and me, Asticot, it is so droll.
If you put it that way, I admitted, it is. But the concierge
doesn't think it possible that you are not my maîtresse. Why
otherwise should you be running in and out of my room, as if it
belonged to you?
You will be bringing a maîtresse of your own here soon, and
then you won't want Blanquette any longer.
I dismissed the idea as one too remote for contemplation. At the
same time I reflected that I kissed a pretty model at Janot's when we
met alone on the stairs. I wondered whether the diabolical perspicacity
of women had seen traces of the kiss on my lips.
I disturb you? she asked drawing up my other wooden chair to the
deal table and sitting down.
Why, no. I can work while you talk.
She put her elbow on a couple of pickled gherkins that remained
casually on the table after a perambulatory meal.
Oh, how dirty men are! You are worse than the Master. Oh la! la!
and he puts his boots and his dirty plates together on his bed! It is
time that you did have a maîtresse to keep the place in order.
I believe you really do want to come here in that capacity, I said
She flushed at the jest and drew herself up. You have no right to
say that, Asticot. I would sooner be the Master's servant than the
mistress or even the wife of any man living. He is everything to me, my
little Asticot, everything, do you hear? although he loves me just as
he loves you and Narcisse. Il ne faut pas te moquer de moi. You
must not laugh at me. It hurts me.
It was only then, for the first time, that I realised in Blanquette
a grown woman. Hitherto I had regarded her merely as a female waif
picked up like the dog and myself under Paragot's vagabond arm and
attached to him by ties of gratitude. Now, lo and behold! she was a
woman talking of deep things with a treacherous throb in her voice.
I reached across the table and took one of her coarse hands.
Mais tu l'aimes donc, ma pauvre Blanquette! I exclaimed in
sympathy and consternation.
She looked down and nodded. I did not know what to say. A tear fell
on my hand. I knew still less. Then crying out she was very unhappy,
she began to sob.
He does not want meeven to pass the time. It has never entered
his head. I am too ugly. I do not demand that he should love me. It
would be asking for the moon.
But he does love you, like a father, I said, in vain consolation.
I love him like a son and you should love him like a daughter.
She did not even condescend to notice this counsel of perfection.
She was too ugly. She was built like a hayrick. The Master had never
cast his eyes on her, as doubtless he would have done, being a man, had
she any of the qualities of allurement. She suffered, poor Blanquette,
from the spretæ injuria formæ with reason even more solid than
the forsaken Dido. She was humble, she sobbed; she did not demand a bit
of love bigger than thatand she clicked her finger nail. With that
she would be proud and happy.
If the master were as gay as he used to be, I should not mind, she
said, lifting a grotesquely stained face. But when he goes drinking,
drinking so as to drown his love for another woman, c'est plus fort
que moi. It is more than I can bear.
Which other woman?
You know very well. That beautiful lady. She has come more than
once to fetch him away. She is a wicked woman, for she does not love
him; she even detests him; one can see that. I should like to kill
her, cried Blanquette.
The idea of anyone wanting to kill Joanna was so novel that I stared
at her speechless. It took some time for my wits to accommodate
themselves to the point of view.
If I were a man I would not drink myself to death for the sake of a
woman who treated me so, she remarked, recovering her composure.
Is it as bad as that? I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. Men must drink. It is their nature. But
there should be limits. One ought to be reasonable, even a man. Did I
not think so? In her matter of fact way she gave me details of
Paragot's habits. The one morning absinthe had grown to two or three.
There was brandy too in his bedroom.
And it eats such a deal of money, my little Asticot, she remarked.
After which, to relieve her feelings, she washed up my dirty plates,
and discoursed on the economics of catering.
I walked with her through the two or three streets that separated me
from the Rue des Saladiers, and went upstairs with her to see whether
Paragot had returned. It was past midnight. There was no Paragot. I
went to the Café Delphine profoundly depressed by Blanquette's story.
Here was Blanquette eating her heart out for Paragot, who was killing
his soul for Joanna, who was miserably unhappy on account of her
husband, who was suffering some penalty for his scaly-headed
vulturedom. It was a kind of House-that-Jack-built tale of misery, of
which I seemed to be the foundation.
Save for Paragot the café was empty. He was asleep in his usual
corner, breathing stertorously, his head against the wall. Madame Boin
on her throne was busy over accounts. Hercule dozed at a table by the
door, his napkin in the crook of his arm. He nodded towards Paragot as
I entered and made a helpless gesture. I looked at the huddled figure
against the wall and wondered how the deuce I was to take him home. I
had no money to pay for a cab. I tried in vain to rouse him.
Monsieur had better let him stay here, said Hercule. It won't be
the first time. My heart grew even heavier than it was before. No
wonder poor Blanquette was dismayed.
He will catch his death of cold when the morning comes, said I,
for the night was fresh and three years of warm lying had softened the
Paragot of vagrant days.
One must die sooner or later, moralised Hercule inhumanly.
I shook my master again. He grunted. I shook him more violently. To
my relief he opened his eyes, smiled at me and waved a limp salutation.
The Palace of Dipsomania, he murmured.
No, Master, said I. This is the Café Delphine and you live in the
Rue des Saladiers.
It is a nuisance to live anywhere. I was born to be a birdto
roost on trees. I had considerable difficulty in disentangling the
words from his thick speech. He shut his eyesthen opened them again.
How does a drunken owl stay on his twig?
As I felt no interest in the domestic habits of dissolute owls, I
set about getting him home. I took his green hat from the peg and put
it on his head, and with Hercule's help drew away the table and set him
on his feet.
A man like that! It goes to my heart, said Madame Boin in a low
I felt unreasonably angry that any one, save myself or perhaps
Blanquette, should pity my beloved master. I did not answer, whereby I
am afraid I was rude to the good Madame Boin. Paragot lurched forward
and would have fallen had not Hercule caught and steadied him.
Broken ankle, explained Paragot.
You must try to walk, Master, I urged anxiously. How was I going
to get him to the Rue des Saladiers? His arm round my neck weighed
cruelly on my frail body.
Put best foot forward, he murmured making a step and pausing.
That is very easy; but the devil of it is when time comes for worst
Try it, for goodness sake, said I.
He tried it with a silly laugh. Then the swing door of the café
opened and Joanna with her sweet frightened face appeared on the
THE sight of Joanna froze Paragot into momentary sobriety. He stood
rigid for a few seconds and then swayed into a chair by one of the
tables and sat with his head in his hands. I went up to Joanna.
He can't come to-night, Madame.
He is not fit.
As she realised my meaning a look of great pain and repulsion passed
over her face.
But he must come. Perhaps he will be better presently. You will
accompany us and help me, Mr. Asticot, won't you?
As usual the frost melted from her eyes and her voicethe silvery
English voicewent to my heart. I bent over Paragot and whispered.
Take her from this pigstye and the sight of the hog, muttered
Paragot. His hands were clenched in a mighty effort to concentrate his
wits. Joanna approached and touched him on the shoulder.
Suddenly he relaxed his grip and broke into a stupid laugh.
Very well. What does it matter? Sorry haven't gotvelveteen suit.
What does he say? she asked turning to me.
That he will come, Madame, said I.
Hercule aided me to frog-march him out of the café and across the
pavement to the waiting carriage. Joanna took her seat by his side and
I sat opposite. Hercule shut the carriage door and we drove off.
Paragot relapsed into stupor.
I don't know how to ask you to forgive me, Mr. Asticot, for keeping
you out of your bed at this time of night, said Joanna. But I am very
friendless here in Paris.
We went along the Boul' Mich' by the quais to the Pont de la
Concorde, crossed the vast and now silent expanse of the Place de la
Concorde and, going by the Rue Royale and the long dull Boulevard
Malesherbes and the Boulevard Haussmann, entered the Avenue de Messine.
It is a long drive under the most cheerful circumstances; but at one
o'clock in the morning in the company of the dearest thing in the world
to me half drunk, and the dear lady whom he worshipped horrified and
disgusted at the thought thereof, it seemed interminable. At last we
arrived at No. 7. At my ring the door swung open drawn by the concierge
within. I helped Paragot out of the carriage. He made a desperate
effort to stand and walk steadily. Heaven knows how he managed to
clamber with not too great indecency up the stairs to the Comte de
Verneuil's flat on the first floor. Joanna opened the door with her
latch key and we entered a softly-lit drawing room.
Let me sit down, said Paragot. I shall be better presently.
He sank an ashamed heap on a sofa by the wall, and with his fingers
through his long black hair fought for mastery over his intoxication.
The Comtesse de Verneuil left us and presently returned, having taken
off her hat and evening wrap. She brought a little silver tray with
Madeira wine and biscuits.
We need something, Mr. Asticot, she said graciously.
We drank the wine and sat down to wait for Paragot's recovery.
Although it was late May, a wood fire glowed beneath the great
chimney-piece. This made of blue and white ware with corbels of cherubs
caught my attention. I had seen things like it in the stately museums
But this is Della Robbia, I exclaimed.
She smiled, somewhat surprised. You are a connoisseur as well as a
philosopher, Mr. Asticot? Yes, it is Della Robbia. The Comte de
Verneuil is a great collector.
Then for the first time I looked about the room, and I caught my
breath as I realised its wealth and luxury. For a time I forgot
Paragot, lost in a dream of Florentine tapestries, priceless cabinets,
porcelain, silver, pictures, richly toned rugs, chairs with rhythmic
lines, all softened into harmonious mystery by the shaded light of the
lamps. At the end of a further room just visible through the looped
curtains a great piece of statuary gleamed white. I had never entered
such a room in my life before. My master had taken me through the show
apartments of great houses and palaces, but they were uninhabited,
wanted the human touch. It had not occurred to me that men and women
could have such wonder as their daily environment, or could invest it
with the indefinable charm of intimacy. I turned and looked at Joanna
as she sat by the Della Robbia chimney-piece, gracious and
distinguished, and Joanna became merged in the Countess de Verneuil,
the great lady, as far removed from me as my little bare attic from
this treasure house of luxury. She wore the room, so to speak, as I
wore the attic. Overcome by sudden timidity I could barely reply to her
She was in no mood for conversation, poor lady; so there dropped
upon us a dead silence, during which she stared frozenly into the fire
while I, afraid to move, occupied the time by storing in my memory
every bewitching detail of her dress and person. The oil sketch of her
I made a day or two afterwards hangs before me as I write these lines.
I prided myself on having caught the colour of her hairblack with the
blue reflections like the blue of cigarette smoke.
Suddenly the quietness was startled by loud groans of agony and
unintelligible speech coming from some room of the flat. Paragot
staggered noisily to his feet, a shaking, hairy, dishevelled spectre,
blinking glazed eyes.
Madame de Verneuil started and leaned forward, her hands on the arms
of her chair.
My husband, she whispered, and for a few seconds we all listened
to the unearthly sounds. Then she rose and turned to me.
You had better see it through.
She crossed to Paragot.
Are you better now?
I can do what is required of me, said my master, humbly, though in
his ordinary voice. He was practically sober.
Then come, said Joanna.
We followed her out of the room, through softly carpeted corridors
full of pictures and statues and beautiful vases, and entered a dimly
lit bedroom. A nurse rose from a chair by the bed, where lay a
bald-headed, beaky-nosed man groaning and raving in some terrible
madness. Joanna gripped my arm as Paragot went to the bedside.
I am Gaston de Nérac, said he.
The Comte de Verneuil raised himself on his elbow and looked at him
in a wild way. I too should have liked to grip someone's arm, for the
sight of the man sent a shudder through me, but I braced myself up
under the consoling idea that I was protecting Joanna.
You are not dead then? I did not kill you? said the Comte de
No, since I am here to tell you that I am alive.
The sweat poured off the man's face. He lay back exhausted.
I do not know why, he gasped, but I thought I had killed you. He
closed his eyes.
That is enough, said the nurse.
Without a word, we all returned to the drawing-room. It was an
I am grateful, said Joanna to my master. I wish there were some
means of repaying you.
I thought, said he, with a touch of irony which she did not
notice, that it was I who was paying for a wrong I did you.
She drew herself up and surveyed him from head to foot, with a
little air of disdain.
I forget, she said icily, that you ever did me any wrong.
And I can't, said he; I wish to heaven I could. You beheld me
to-night in the process of tryingan unedifying sight for Madame la
Comtesse de Verneuil.
An unedifying sight for anybody, said Joanna.
He bowed his head. Something pathetic in his attitude touched her.
She was a tender-hearted woman. Her hand caught his sleeve.
Gaston, why have you come down to this? You of all men?
Because I am the one poor fool of all poor fools who takes life
Joanna sighed. I can't understand you.
Is there any necessity?
You belong to a time when one wanted to understand everything. Now
nothing much matters. But curiously in your case the desire has
You understood me well enough to be sure that when you wanted me I
would be at your service.
I don't know, she said. It was a desperate resort to save my
husband's reason. Oh, come, she cried, moving to the chairs by the
fire, let us sit and talk for five minutes. The other times you came
and went and we scarcely spoke a word. Besides, with a forced laugh,
it would not have been convenable. Now Mr. Asticot is here as
chaperon. It doesn't seem like real life, does it, that you and I
should be here? It is like some grotesque dream in which all sorts of
incoherences are mixed up together. Don't you at least find it
As interesting as toothache, replied Paragot.
If it is pain for you to talk to me, Gaston, I will not detain
you, said Joanna, rising from her chair.
Forgive me, said he; I suppose my manners have gone with the
rest. You may help me to recover them if you allow me to talk to you.
He passed his hand wearily over his face, which during the last
minute or two had been overspread by a queer pallor. He looked ghastly.
Tell me, said he, why you come to that boozing-ken of a place? A
note would reach me and I would obey.
She explained that there was no time for letter-writing. The Comte's
attacks came on suddenly at night. To soothe him it was necessary to
find the chief actor in the absurd comedy at once, at any cost to her
reputation. Besides, what did it matter? The only person who knew of
her escapade was the coachman, an old family servant of the Comte, as
discreet as death.
How long have these attacks been going on? asked my master.
Joanna poured out her story with the pathetic eagerness of a woman
who has kept hateful secrets in her heart too long and at last finds a
human soul in whom she can confide. I think she almost forgot my
presence, for I sat modestly apart, separated from them by the wide
cone of light cast by the shaded lamp.
The first symptoms of mental derangement, she said, had manifested
themselves two years ago. They had gradually increased in frequency and
intensity. During the interval the Comte de Verneuil went about the
world a sane man. The attacks, as she had explained, came on suddenly,
always at night, and his fixed idea was that he had killed Gaston de
Nérac. Before Paragot had appeared they lasted two or three days, till
they spent themselves leaving the patient in great bodily prostration.
When she had met me taking the Spring outside the Hôtel Bristol, a wild
idea had entered her head that the confrontation of the Comte with the
living Gaston de Nérac might end his madness. On the occasion of the
next attack she had rushed in eager search for Paragot, had brought him
to the raving bedside, and the result had been magical. She had thought
the cure permanent; but a fortnight later the attack returned, as it
had returned again and again, and as it had returned to-night.
It is charitable of you to have come, Gaston, she said, in her
sweet way, and I must ask you to forgive me for anything unkind I may
He made some reply in a low voice which I did not hear, and for a
little time their talk was pitched in the same tone. I began to grow
sleepy. I aroused myself with a jerk to hear Joanna say,
Why did you play that detestable tune from 'Orphée aux Enfers'?
To see if you would recognise it. Some mocking devil prompted me.
It was the last tune you and I heard togetherthe night of our
engagement party. The band played it in the garden.
Don'tdon't! exclaimed Joanna, putting up her hands to her face.
This then was why each had cried out at Aix-les-Bains against the
merry little tune. It was interesting. I saw however that it must have
jangled horribly on tense nerves.
She dashed away her hands suddenly and strained her face towards
Why, Gastonwhy did you?
He rose with a deprecating gesture and there was a hunted look in
his eyes. During all this strange scene he was no longer Paragot, my
master, but Gaston de Nérac whom I did not know. His wild, picturesque
speech, his dear vagabond manner had gone. The haggardness of some
desperate illness changed his features and I grew frightened. I came to
Masterwe must take a cab. Have you any money?
Yes, he said faintly, let us go home.
But you are ill! You look as white as a ghost! cried Joanna, in
I had a dinner of herbsin the liquid form of absinthe, said my
master with a clutch at Paragot. How does it go? Better a dinner of
herbs where love is
Ah! Monsieur has not yet gone, said the nurse, hurrying into the
room. Monsieur le Comte begs me to give this to Monsieur.
She held out a letter.
Monsieur le Comte made me open his despatch box, Madame, she added
She left the room. Paragot stood twirling the letter between his
fingers. Joanna bade him open it. It might be something important
Paragot drew from the envelope half a sheet of note-paper. He looked at
it, made a staggering step to the door and fell sprawling prone upon
Joanna uttered a little cry of fright, and, as I did, cast herself
on her knees beside him. He had fainted. Abstinence from food, drink,
his tremendous effort of will towards sobriety, the strain of the
interview, had brought him to the verge of the precipice, and it only
required the shock of the letter to send him toppling over. We propped
his head on cushions and loosened his collar.
What can we do? gasped my dear lady.
I will call the nurse from Monsieur le Comte's room, said I.
She will know, said Joanna hopefully.
I went to the Comte's room, opened the door and beckoned to the
nurse. She gave a glance at her sleeping patient and joined me in the
corridor. On my explanation she brought water and sal-volatile and
returned with me to the drawing-room. It was a night of stupefying
surprises. The quartier would have called it abracadabrant
and they would not have been far wrong. There was necromancy in the
air. I felt it, as I followed the nurse across the threshold. I
anticipated something odd, some grotesque development. In the
atmosphere of those I loved in those days I was as sensitive as a
Paragot lay still as death, his wild hairy head on the satin
cushions, but Joanna was crouching on her knees in the midst of the
cone of light cast by the shaded lamp, reading, with parted lips and
blanched face, the half sheet of note-paper. As we entered she turned
and looked at me and her eyes were frozen hard blue. The nurse bent
over by my master's side.
Joanna stretched out her arms full length towards me.
Read, she cried, and her voice was harsh with no silvery tone in
it at all. I took the paper wonderingly from her fingers.
Why she should have shown it to me, the wretched little pasty-faced
gutter-bred art student, I could not conceive for many of the after
years during which I wrestled with the head-and heart-splitting
perplexities of women. But experience has taught me that human beings,
of whichever sex they may be, will do amazing things in times of
spiritual upheaval. I have known the primmest of vicar's churchwardens
curse like a coal-heaver when a new incumbent chose in his stead a less
prim man than he.
I was just a human entity, I suppose, who had strayed into the
sacred and intimate sphere of her lifethe only one perhaps in the
world who had done so. She was stricken to the soul. Instinct compelled
my sharing of her pain.
She commanded me to read. I was only nineteen. Had she commanded me
to drink up eisel or eat a crocodile, I would have done it. I read.
The address of the letter was Eaton Square: the date, the 20th of
June thirteen years before. The wording as follows:
In consideration of the sum of Ten thousand pounds I the
undersigned Gaston de Nérac promise and undertake from this moment not
to hold any communication by word or writing with Miss Joanna Rushworth
for the space of two yearsthat is to say until midnight of the 20th
June 18. Should however Miss Joanna Rushworth be married in the
meantime, I solemnly undertake on my honour as a gentleman not of my
own free will to hold any communication with her whatever as long as I
live, or should circumstances force us to meet, not to acquaint her in
any way with the terms of this agreement, whereof I hold myself bound
by the spirit as well as by the letter. GASTON DE NÉRAC.
* * * * *
My young and unpractised mind required some minutes to realise the
meaning of this precious agreement. When it had done so I stared
blankly at Joanna.
The nurse in her businesslike fashion drew the curtains and flung
the French windows wide open.
He has only fainted. He will soon come round.
She returned to Paragot's side. Joanna and I remained staring at
each other. She rose, took me by the sleeve and dragged me to the
The writing is my husband's, she said in a whisper. The signature
is his, pointing to Paragot. He sold me to my husband for ten
thousand pounds on the evening of our engagement party. What am I to
do? I haven't a friend in this hateful country.
I longed to tell her she had at least one friend, but as I could
neither help nor advise her I said nothing.
No wonder he has a banking account, she said with a bitter laugh.
I noticed then that a strained woman's humour is unpleasant. She sat
down. The corners of her kind lips quivered.
The world is turned upside down, she said piteously. There is no
love, honour or loyalty in it. I felt this evening as if I could
forgive him; but now She rose and wrung her hands and exclaimed
sharply, Oh, it's hateful, it's hateful for men to be so base!
That it was a base action to sell Joanna for any sum of money,
however bewildering in largeness, I could not deny. But that Paragot
should have been guilty of it I would not have believed had the
accusation come from Joanna's own lips. The confounded scrap of paper,
however, was proof. Therein he had pledged himself to give up Joanna
for ten thousand pounds, and the scaly-headed vulture had paid the
money. I turned away sadly and went to help the nurse minister to my
He opened his eyes and whispered that I must fetch a cab.
Or a dung-cart, he added, characteristically.
Glad of action I went out into the long quiet avenue and after five
minutes' walk hailed a passing fiacre. The nurse admitted me when I
rang the bell. I found Paragot sitting on the sofa by the wall, and
Joanna where I had left her, by the Della Robbia chimney-piece.
Apparently they had not had a very companionable five minutes. He rose
as I entered.
I thought you were never coming, said he. Let us go.
I must say good-bye to Madame.
Be quick about it, he whispered.
I crossed the room to Joanna's chair and made a French bow according
to my instruction in manners.
Good night, Madame.
She held out her hand to mesuch a delicate soft little hand, but
quite cold and nerveless.
Good night, Mr. Asticot. I am sorry our friendship has been so
I joined Paragot. He said from where he stood by the door:
Good night, Madame la Comtesse.
She made no reply. Instinctively both of us lingered a second on the
threshold, filling our eyes with the beauty and luxury that were all
part and parcel of Joanna, and as the door closed behind us we felt
like two bad angels turned out of Paradise.
I CAME across him the next afternoon sitting on a stone bench in the
Luxembourg Gardens. His hat was slouched forward over his eyes. His
hand supported his chin so that his long straggling beard protruded in
a curious Egyptian horizontality. His ill-laced boots innocent as usual
of blacking, for he would not allow Blanquette to touch them, were
stuck out ostentatiously, and to the peril of the near passers-by. He
had never during our acquaintance manifested any sense of the
dandified; on our travels he had worn the casual, unnoticeable dress of
the peasant, save when he had masqueraded in the pearl-buttoned
velveteens; in London a swaggering air of braggadocio had set off his
Bohemian garb: but never had the demoralised disreputability of Paragot
struck me until I saw him in the Luxembourg Gardens.
Everything else wore a startlingly fresh appearance, after the heavy
rains. The gravel walk had the prim neatness of a Peter de Hoogh garden
path. The white balustrades and flights of steps around the great
circle, the statuary and the fountains in the middle lake, flashed
pure. The enormous white caps of nurses, their gay silk streamers
fluttering behind them, the white-clad children, the light summer
dresses of women; the patches of white newspaper held by other loungers
on the seats; a dazzling bit of cirro-cumulus scudding across the clear
Paris sky; the pale dome of the Panthéon rising to the East; the
background of the Luxembourg itself in which one was only conscious of
the high lights on the long bold cornices; all set the key of the
picture and gave it symphonic value. The eye rejected everything but
the whites and the pearl greys, subordinating all other tones to its
impression of fantastic purity.
And there like an ink blot splashed on the picture, sat Paragot. The
very foulest odd-volume of Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois which could
be picked up on the quays lay unopened on his knee. Not until Narcisse,
who was sleeping at his feet, jumped up and barked a welcome around me
did Paragot notice my approach. He held out his hand, and the
finger-nails seemed longer and dirtier than ever. He drew me down to
the seat beside him.
You were asleep when I ran in this morning, Master, said I
apologetically, for it was the first time I had seen him that day.
Since then I have been thinking, my little Asticot. It is a vain
occupation for a May afternoon, and it makes your head ache. I should
be much better employed carting manure for Madame Dubosc. We earned two
francs. Do you remember?
I remember that my back ached terribly afterwards, said I
Ah, but the ease and comfort in your soul! Perhaps there's nothing
much the matter with yours yet, is there?
I think it's all right, I answered.
Something must be wrong with mine, he remarked meditatively,
because at a crisis in my life I haven't had an inspiration. It is
sluggish. I want a soul pill.
This time it was I who had an inspirationone of terrifying
Master, perhaps absinthe isn't good for it, said I all in a
Infant Solomon, replied Paragot ironically, where have you
gathered such a store of wisdom? Have you a scrap of paper in your
Yes, Master, said I, producing a sketch-book and preparing to tear
out a leaf. He stopped my hand.
Leave it in. All the better. As I am sure you don't remember the
passage from Cicero's De Natura Deorum which I quoted to you
some time ago, since you are unacquainted with the Latin tongue, I will
dictate it to you, and you can learn it by heart and say it like a
Pater or an Ave morning and evening.
I wrote down at his dictation the passage concerning the
impossibility of judging between the false and true. And that is how I
was able to set it down in its proper place in a previous chapter.
Do you know why I have made you do this?
Yes, Master, said I, for I knew that he referred to the sale of
Joanna for ten thousand pounds.
Circumstance flattens a man out sometimes, said he, like a
ribbonas if he had been carefully ironed by a hot steam roller. I
suppose a flattened man can't have an inspiration. I am my own
tomb-stone and you can chalk across me 'Hic jacet qui olim Paragotus
His tone was so dejected that I felt a sinking at my heart, a
scratchiness in my nose and a wateriness in my eyes. I suffered the
pangs of suppressed sympathy. What could a boy of nineteen say or do in
order to restore rotundity to a flattened hero?
Years ago, he continued after a pause, I found the world a Lie
and I started off to chase the wild goose of Truth. I captured nothing
but a taste for alcohol which brought me eventually beneath the steam
roller. Were it not the silliest legend invented by man, I should say
to you 'Beware of the steam roller.' But if a man's sober he can see
the thing himself; if he isn't, he can't read the warning. I can only
tell you to be unalcoholic and you'll be happy. You see, my little son
Asticot, to what depths I have descended in that I can be the Apostle
of the Platitudinous.
He leaned forward, chin on knuckles, and his beard again stuck out
horizontally. Happy people passed us by. For many the work of the day
was already over and they had the lingering magic of the sunshine for
their own. A young blue-bloused workman and a girl hanging on his arm
brushed close by our seat.
Si, nous aurons des enfants, et de beaux enfants, she
I hope they will, said Paragot, looking at them wistfully. Then
after a pause: Has the Comtesse de Verneuil any children?
No, Master, said I in a tone of conviction. It struck me later
that I had spoken from blank ignorance. But at the moment the question
seemed preposterous. In many ways I had still the unreasoning instincts
of a child. Because I had never contemplated my dear lady Joanna in the
light of a mother, I unhesitatingly proclaimed her childless. As a
matter of fact I was right.
Paragot, satisfied with my reply, watched the endless stream of
cheerful folk. Once he quoted to himself:
'The golden foot of May is on the flowers'and on the heads of all
Suddenly he sat back and seized me by the arm.
Asticot, you are a man now, and you must see things with the eyes
of a man. I have loved you like my sonif you should turn away,
thinking evil things of me, like someone else, it would break my heart.
Neither she nor you ought to have seen that accursed paper. You and
Blanquette and the dog are all I have in the world to care for, and I
want you all to think well of me.
Then the tears did spring into my eyes, for my beloved master's
appeal went home to that which was truest and best in me. I stammered
out something, I know not what; but it came from my heart. It pleased
him. He jumped to his feet in his old impetuous way.
Bravo, petit Asticot de mon coeur! The nightmare is over,
and we can enjoy the sunshine again. We will drag Blanquette from the
Rue des Saladiers which does not lay itself out for jollity, and we
will dine at a reckless restaurant. Blanquette shall eat the snails
which she adores and I shall eat pig's feet and you an underdone
beefsteak to nourish your little body. And we shall all eat with our
dinner 'le pain bénit de la gaîté.'
He strode off eager as usual to put his idea into immediate
execution. He talked all the way to the Rue des Saladiers. Poor
Blanquette! He had been neglecting her. A girl of her age needed some
amusement; we would go to the Théâtre, the Porte Saint-Martin, like
good bourgeois, and see a melodrama so that Blanquette could weep.
They are playing 'Les Eventreurs de Paris.' I hear they rip each
other up on the stage and everybody is reeking with bloodgood honest
red bloodcarried in bladders under their costumes, my son. You turn
up what you can of your snub little superior artistic nosebut
Blanquette will be in Paradise.
Blanquette was in the slip of a kitchen and a flurried temper when
But, Master, you said you would not be home for dinner. There is
nothing in the houseonly this which I was cooking for myself, and
she dived her fork into the pot and brought up on the prongs a
diminutive piece of beef. And now you and Asticot demand dinner, as if
dinners came out of the pot of their own accord. Ah men! They are
always like that.
I put my arm round her waist. We are all dining out together,
Blanquette; but if you don't want to come, you shall stay at home.
And without dinner, said Paragot, taking the fork from her hand
and throwing the meat to Narcisse.
Ah, mais non! cried Blanquette, whose sense of economy was
outraged. But when Narcisse sprang on the beef and finding it too hot,
lay growling at it until it should cool, she broke out laughing.
After all, it would have been very tough, she admitted.
Then why in the sacred name of shoe leather were you going to eat
it? asked Paragot.
Food is to be eaten, not thrown away, Master, she replied
We took the omnibus and crossed the river and went up the Grands
Boulevards, an unusual excursion for Paragot who kept obstinately to
the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the poorer streets of the quartier, through fear, I believe, of meeting friends of former days. A
restaurant outside the Porte Saint-Martin provided a succulent meal.
The place was crowded. Two young soldiers sat at our table, and
listened awe-stricken to Paragot's conversation and were prodigiously
polite to Blanquette, who, they discovered, was from Normandy, like
themselves. And when they asked, after the frank manner of their kind,
which of us had the honour to be the lover of Mademoiselle, and she
cried with scarlet face, But neither, Monsieur! we all shouted
together and laughed and became the best friends in the world. Happy
country of fraternity! The little soldiersthey were dragoons and wore
helmets too big for them and long horsehair plumesaccompanied us with
clanking sabres to the gallery of the theatre, and at Paragot's
invitation sat one on each side of Blanquette, who, what with the
unaccustomed bloodshed of the spectacle and the gallantry of her
neighbours, passed an evening of delirious happiness. In those days I
had an æsthetic soul above the 'Eventreurs de Paris,' and I made fun of
it to Paragot, whose thoughts were far away. When I perceived this, I
kept my withering sarcasm to myself, and realised that a flattened man
cannot be blown like a bladder into permanent rotundity even by the
faith and affection of a little art-student. But I marvelled all the
more at his gaiety during the intervals, when we all went outside into
the thronged boulevard and drank bocks on the terrace of the café, and
I learned how great a factor in the continued existence of humanity is
the Will-to-Laugh, which I think the German philosopher has omitted
from his system.
I mention this incident to show how Paragot defied the effects of
the steam roller and became outwardly himself again. He did not visit
the Café Delphine that night, but went soberly home with Blanquette,
and I believe read himself to sleep with his tattered odd volume of
Montesquieu. The following evening however found him in his usual seat
under the lee of Madame Boin's counter, arguing on art, literature and
philosophy and consuming a vast quantity of ill-assorted alcohols. And
then his life resumed its normal course.
It was about this time that Madame Boin seeing in Paragot an
attractive adjunct to her establishment and, with a Frenchwoman's
business instinct, desiring to make it permanent, paralysed him by an
offer of marriage.
Madame, said he, as soon as he had recovered, if I accepted the
great honour which you propose, you would doubtless require me to
abandon certain personal habits which are dear to me, and also to trim
my hair and beard and cut my finger-nails of whose fantastic length I
am inordinately proud.
I think I should ask you to cut your nails, said Madame Boin
Then, Madame, said Paragot, it would be impossible. Shorn of
these adornments I should lose the power of conversation and I should
be a helpless and useless Samson on your hands.
I don't see what long nails have to do with talking, argued Madame
They give one the necessary thirst, replied Paragot.
My son, said he when relating to me this adventure, do not
cultivate a habit of affability towards widows of the lower middle
classes. There was once a murderer's widow of Prague
I know, said I.
There was an old stocking.
I forgot, said he, and his laughing face darkened and I saw that
he fell to thinking of Joanna.
* * * * *
Although much of my leisure was absorbed by the companionship of my
beloved Master and Blanquette, I yet had an individual life of my own.
I made dozens of acquaintances and one or two friends. I had not a care
in the world. Bisard, the great man attached to the life school in
Janot's atelier, proclaimed me one of the best of my year, and sent my
heart leaping sky-high. I worked early and late. I also played the fool
as (worse luck) only boyhood can. With my fellows, arm in arm through
the streets, I shouted imbecile songs. I went to all kinds of
reprehensible placesto the bals du quartier, for instance,
where we danced with simple-minded damsels who thought choucroute
garnie a generous supper and a bottle of vin cacheté as
setting the seal of all that was most distinguished upon the host. With
the first five francs that I made by selling a drawing I treated
Fanchette, the little model I kissed on the stairs, to a trip to
Saint-Cloud. Five francs went prodigiously far in those days. They had
to, as some of us were desperately poor and could afford but one meal a
day. Fortunate youth that I was, whenever money ran short, instead of
borrowing or starving, I had only to climb to Blanquette and open my
mouth like a young bird and she filled it with nice fat things. Poor
sandalled Cazalet of the yellow hair, on the other hand, lived
sometimes for a week on dry bread and water. It was partly his own
fault; for had he chosen to make saleable drawings he too might have
had five francs wherewith to take Fanchette to Saint-Cloud. Pretty
little Pierrettes in frills and pointed caps are more attractive to the
cheap purchaser than ugly souls writhing in torment; and really they
are quite as artistic. We quarrelled fiercely over this one day, and he
challenged me to a duel. I replied that I had no money to buy pistols.
Neither had he, he retorted, but I could borrow a sabre. He himself had
one. His father had been an officer. Whereupon the studio bawled in
gleeful unison Voici le sabre, le sabre de mon père, and
dragged us in tumult to the Café opposite where we swore eternal
friendship over grogs américains.
From this I do not mean you to infer that I was a devil of a fellow,
the mention of whose name spread a hush over godly families. God wot! I
did little harm. I only ate what Murger calls the Blessed bread of
gaiety, the food of youth. Remember, too, it was the first time in my
life that I had companions of my own age. Indeed, so nearly had I
modelled myself on Paragot the ever young, that my comrades laughed at
my old fashioned ideas, and I found myself hopelessly behind the times.
Youth hops an inch sideways and thinks it has leaped a mile ahead. All
is vanity, even youth.
'Tis a pleasant vanity though, on which the wise smile with
regretful indulgence; and therein lay the wisdom of Paragot.
Ah! confounded little cock-sparrowI haven't seen you for a week,
he said one morning, shaking me by the shoulders till my teeth
chattered. What about the other little sparrow you neglected me for on
Sunday? Is she at least good-looking? A model? And she is a good girl
and supports her widowed mother and ten brothers and sisters, I
suppose? And she calls herself Fanchette? Narcisse, the lady of
Monsieur Asticot's affections has the singular name of Fanchette.
Whereupon Narcisse uncurled himself from slumber and planted himself
on his hindquarters in front of me and grinned at me with lolling
But she is quite a different kind of girl from all the other
models! I cried eagerly.
What does she pose for?
Wellof courseyou know how it is I stammered, reddening.
Paragot laughed and quoted something in Latin about an ingenuous
Would she be a fit companion for Blanquette and Narcisse and
Having deep convictions as to the essential virtues of Fanchette, I
swore that she could not disgrace so respectable a company.
We will all picnic together in the woods of Fontainebleau on
Sunday, said he.
We picnic-ed. Fanchette had no shynesses. She found Paragot
peculiarly diverting, and though I enjoyed the day prodigiously, I
realised afterwards that I had spent most of it in the company of
My son, said he, there never was a model so like all the other
models that have posed for the well-of-course-you-know-how-it-is, since
the world began.
A week later, when I found my particular friend Ewing, whom as a
tongue-tied Englishman I had relieved of many embarrassments, and for
whom I had secured an easel, branding it myself in twenty places with
his name, and for whom I had engineered a good position next to mine in
the Life Schoolwhen I saw Ewing hugging Fanchette on the stairs, on
the very landing sacred to my embraces, I knew that Paragot was right,
and that Fanchette was just a fickle, naughty little model like the
others. But if Paragot had not taken her measure before my eyes at
Fontainebleau and made a figured drawing so to speak of her heart and
soul, shewing their exiguous dimensions, I might have cast myself
beneath the wheels of an omnibus like the pig Népomucène, or blacked
the eyes of Ewing who was smaller than myself. As it was, I put my
hands in my trousers' pockets and surveyed the abashed couple in
Paragot's best manner.
Amuse yourselves well, my children, I laughed, in French, and
turned away heart-whole.
This is an instance of the wisdom of Paragot. He smiled on the
vanity of my youth, and personally conducted me to the barrenness
whither it led. In this particular case the result was more positive
still. Ewing in admiration of my magnanimity at the time, and a
fortnight later of my profound knowledge of womenfor he in his turn
witnessed the alien osculations of Fanchettecultivated my friendship
to the extent of urging me to spend some of the summer recess at his
father's country vicarage in Somerset.
But you'll have to get some other togs, said he, eyeing my attire
dubiously. If you come like that to church on Sunday, my governor
would forget and want to baptise you. He was once a missionary, you
When I mentioned the invitation, Paragot insisted on acceptance.
The Latin Quarter confers an exuberance of tone which conflicts
with the reposeful ideal of manners required in the beau monde
which I destined you to grace when I took you from the maternal
soapsuds. You will find an English Parsonage exerts a repressive
influence. But for Heaven's sake don't fall in love with Ewing's eldest
sister, who, I am sure, is addicted to piety and good works. She will
try to make a good work of you and thus all my labour will have been in
In his heart, however, I believe he was immensely proud at having
trained me to meet gentlefolk on more or less equal terms. Ewing's
invitation was a tribute to himself. To fit me for church on Sunday and
other functions of civilisation he took Ewing (as counsellor) and
myself to a tailor's and plunged enthusiastically into the details of
my outfit. I can see him now, shaggy and shabby, fingering stuffs with
the anxious solicitude of a woman at a draper's counter.
That's a nice country suiting. It expresses its purpose, suggests
the right gaiety of mood. What says Arbiter elegantiarum?
Don't you think it might make the cart-horses shy? says Ewing, and
Paragot drops reluctantly the thunder-and-lightning check that has
seized his unaccustomed fancy.
My wardrobe included a dress suit.
At Paragot's bidding, I donned it when it arrived, and on my way to
him transfixed the Rue des Saladiers with awe and wonder. Upstairs,
Paragot twirled me slowly round as if I were a mannequin on a pivot,
and called Blanquette to admire, and uttered strange oaths in the dozen
languages of which he was master. Was I not beautiful?
Blanquette admitted that I was. All that was most beautiful; without
a doubt. I resembled the stylish people who went to expensive funerals.
In fact, she added with a sigh, I was too beautiful.
She saw her brother Asticot transfigured into the resplendent
gentleman beyond her sphere, and sighed womanlike at my apotheosis. She
could no longer walk by my side, bareheaded, in the streets. The dress
suit was a symbol of change detested by woman. She gave the matter
however her practical attention.
He ought to have patent-leather shoes, she observed.
That's true, said Paragot, pulling his beard reflectively. Ewing
should have mentioned it; but I have noticed a singular lack of
universality in the sons of English clergymen.
And now my son, said he on the eve of my departure, I too have
the nostalgia of green fields and the smell of hay and manure and the
fresh earth after rain. I have at last an inspiration. As this
confounded ankle will not let me walk, I shall hire a donkey and let
him take me whither he will. Narcisse shall accompany me.
And Blanquette, will she trudge beside the donkey?
I have arranged for Blanquette to go into villégiatura at the farm
of La Haye.
With Monsieur and Madame Dubosc?
Your logical faculty does you credit, my son. They are most
excellent people, although they could not tell me how many towers the
Cathedral of Chartres possessed. You will remember an excursion we made
on Sunday, and I lectured learnedly on the archæology of the fabric. My
learning impressed them less than my skill in curing a pig according to
a Dalmatian recipe. They will board and lodge Blanquette for ten francs
a week and she will be as happy as Marie Antoinette while haymaking at
the Petit Trianon. She will occupy herself with geese and turkeys while
I shall be riding my donkey.
Master, said I, I only have one fear. You will adopt that donkey
and bring it to live in the Rue des Saladiers.
Paragot laughed, drained his glass of absinthe and ordered another.
THUS the three of us were again separated. Blanquette was enjoying
herself amongst the pigs and ducks of La Haye, whence she wrote letters
in which her joy in country things mingled with anxiety as to the
neglected condition of the Master; I led a pleasant but somewhat
nervous life in Somersetshire, spending hours in vain attempts to
reconcile the cosmic views of Paragot and an English vicar, and
learning sometimes with hot humiliation the correctitudes of English
country vicarage behaviour; and Paragot, his long legs dangling on each
side of his donkey, rode, as I thought, picturesquely vagrant, through
the leafy byways of France.
A fortnight after my arrival, however, he informed me by letter of
his resolve to stay in Paris. He had failed to find an ass of the true
vagabond character. The ideal ass he sought should be a companion as
well as a means of locomotion. He would not take an urban donkey into
the country against its will. To force any creature, man, woman, or
ass, out of the groove of its temperament were a crime of which he
could not be guilty. Then, again, Narcisse did not enter into the
spirit of the pilgrimage. He laid his head along his forepaws and
glowered sullenly instead of barking with enthusiasm. Again, when he
announced his intention of leaving Paris, Hercule groaned aloud and
Madame Boin wept so profusely that sitting beneath her counter he had
to put up a borrowed umbrella. Cazalet too, and a few others too poor
for railway fares, were staying in town. Also the Café Delphine had
spoiled him for the horrible alcohols of wayside cafés. And, lastly,
what did it matter where the body found itself so long as the soul had
its serene habitations?
The letter depressed me. I was beginning to see Paragot with the
eyes of a man. I felt that this inability to carry out an inspiration
was a sign of decay. The springs of action had weakened. Though the
spirit thirsted for sweet things, habit chained him to the squalor of
the Café Delphine. When the quiet Somersetshire household knelt around
the drawing-room for evening prayers, I speculated on the stage of
intoxication at which my lonely master had arrived.
I was a million miles from speculating on what was really happening,
and when I received a curt uncharacteristic note from Paragot a
fortnight later begging me to return to Paris at once, a day or two
before the formal expiry of my visit, it only occurred to me that he
might be ill.
* * * * *
The crowded train steamed into the Gare Saint-Lazare at half past
seven in the morning. I was desperately anxious to get to Paragot, and
bag in hand I stood with a sickening feeling of suspense by the open
door, waiting for the train to slow down. I sprang out. In an instant
the line of porters were odd dots of blue in the throng that swarmed
out of the carriages. I became a mere ant in the heap, and struggled
with the others towards the barrier. After giving up my ticket, I set
down my bag to rest my strained arm for a minute, and looked around me.
Then I noticed a stranger approaching whose smiling face had an air of
uncanny familiarity. Where had I seen the long gaunt man before? He
wore a silk hat and a frock coat. My acquaintance with silk-hatted
gentlemen in Paris was limited. I picked up my bag.
Ah! My little Asticot, cried the stranger. How good it is to see
I dropped my bag. I dropped my jaw. I would have dropped my brains
had they been loose. This cadaverous image of respectability was
Paragotbut a Paragot transmogrified beyond recognition even by me.
His hair was cropped short. His face was clean shaven. On his
transfigured head shone a flat brimmed silk hat. He wore a villainously
fitting frock coat buttoned across his chest, with long wrinkly creases
stretching horizontally from each button. His hands were encased in
lemon coloured gloves a size too large for him. When he extended his
hand even my bewilderment did not blind me to the half-inch of flat
dead tips to the fingers. Beneath his arm was an umbrellaon a
broiling August morning! He wore spatsin mid-summer! His trousers
were fawn coloured. I could only gape at him as he wrung me by the
You are surprised, my son.
I did not expect you to meet my train, Master, said I.
If one could anticipate all the happenings of life it would lose
its fascination. My son, go your way and do your duty, but believe in
But what has happened? I asked, again surveying his ill-fitting
The Comte de Verneuil is dead, he answered.
Are you going to his funeral?
In these? he cried holding up the lemon kids, and this cravat?
I noticed that he wore a floppy purple tie adorned with yellow
spots, outside the lapels of his coat. It required more than two
glances to take in all his detail.
Besides, he added, my distinguished patient was buried a
He looked at me with an amused smile, enjoying my mystification like
You didn't know me.
No, Master. I rubbed my eyes. In fact I scarcely recognise you
That is because I am again Gaston de Nérac, said he magnificently.
I had an idea that he must have come into the family fortune. But
what had the death of the Comte de Verneuil to do with it? I picked up
my bag again and walked with him to the exit. The hurrying crowd of
passengers by my train and of clerks and work-people pouring from
suburban platforms rendered conversation impossible.
At the station gates Paragot stood and watched the brisk life that
swarmed up and down the Rue Saint-Lazare and the Rue du Havre. Paris
awakens a couple of hours earlier than London. Clerks hurried by with
flat leather portfolios under their arms. Servants trotted to market,
or homewards, with the end of a long golden loaf protruding from their
baskets. Work-girls sped by in all directions. Omnibuses lumbered along
as at midday. Before the great cafés opposite, the tables were already
set out on the terrace and the awnings lowered, and white-aproned
waiters stood expectant. The whole scene was bathed in the gay morning
It is good to be alive, Asticot, said my master. It is good to be
in Paris. It is good to get up early. It is good to see the world's
work beginning. It is also good to feel infernally hungry and to have
the means of satisfying one's desires. But as, in the absence of
Blanquette, my establishment is disorganised, I think we had better
have our breakfast at a crêmerie than in the Rue des Saladiers.
We can talk over our coffee.
I accompanied him across the street in a muddled condition of
intellect, casting sidelong glances at him from time to time, as if to
assure myself that he was real. Having just come from an English
environment where the niceties of costume were as rigidly observed as
the niceties of religion, I could not help marvelling at Paragot's
attire. He looked like a tenth-rate French provincial actor made up to
represent a duke, and in a country where none but actors and footmen
are clean-shaven this likeness was the more accentuated. Also the
difference between Paragot hairy and bearded and Paragot in his present
callow state was that between an old unbroken hazel nut and its bald,
We entered the crêmerie, sat down and ordered our coffee and
crisp horse-shoe loaves. I think the petit déjeuner at a
crêmerie is one of the most daintily served meals in France. The
morning dew glistens so freshly on the butter, the fringed napkin is so
spotless, the wide-mouthed cups offer themselves so delicately
generous. If everyone breakfasted there crime would cease. No man could
hatch a day's iniquity amid such influences.
When we were half-way through, Paragot unbuttoned his frock coat and
took from his pocket a black-edged letter which he flourished before my
eyes. It was then that I noticed, to my great surprise, that he had cut
his finger-nails. I thought of Madame Boin.
It is from the Comtesse de Verneuil, and it gives you the word of
Yes, Master, said I, eyeing the letter.
Confess, my little Asticot, he laughed, that you are dying of
You would tell me, said I, that it was no death for a gentleman.
You have a way of repeating my unsaid epigrams which delights me,
said he, throwing the letter on the table. Read it.
I read as follows:
près de Nevers.
13th Aug. 18
MY DEAR GASTON:
The newspapers may have told you the news of my
husband's death on the 1st August. Since then I
have been longing to write to you but I have not
found the strength. Yet I must.
Forgive me for the cruel things I said on the
last unhappy night we met. I did not know what I
do now. Before my husband died he told me the true
circumstances of the money transaction. My husband
bought me, it is true, Gaston, but you did not
sell me. You sacrificed all to save my father from
prison and me from disgrace. You have lived
through everything a brave, loyal gentleman, and
even on that hateful night you kept silent. But
oh, my friend, what misery it has been to all of
I shall be in Paris on the 28thHôtel Meurice.
If you care to see me will you make an
appointment? I would meet you at any place you
might suggest. The flat in the Avenue de Messine
is dismantled and, besides, I shrink from going
back there. Yours sincerely,
JOANNA DE VERNEUIL.
You see, my son, what she calls mea brave, loyal gentleman, he
cried, with his pathetic boastfulness. Thank Heaven she knows it. I
have kept the secret deep in my heart all these years. One must be a
man to do that, eh? He thumped his heart and drank a draught of
coffee. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
He eyed the brown stain disgustedly.
That, said he, is Paragot peeping out through Gaston de Nérac.
You will have observed that in the polite world they use
The Comtesse de Verneuil, said I, bringing back the conversation
to more interesting matters, writes that she will be in Paris on the
28th. It was the 28th yesterday.
I am aware of it. I have been aware of it for a fortnight.
Yesterday I had a long interview with Madame la Comtesse. It was very
satisfactory. To-day I pay her a ceremonious visit at eleven o'clock.
At twelve I hope you will also pay your respects and offer your
condolences to Madame. You ought to have a silk hat.
But, Master, I laughed, If I went down the Boul' Mich' in a silk
hat, I should be taken up for improper behaviour.
You at least have gloves?
Remember that in this country you wear both gloves while paying a
call. You also balance your hat on your knees.
But Madame de Verneuil is English, I remarked.
She has learned correct behaviour in France, he replied with the
solemnity of a professor of deportment. You will have noticed in her
letter, he continued, how delicately she implies that the Hôtel
Meurice would not be a suitable rendezvous. In my late incarnation I
doubtless should have surprised the Hôtel Meurice. I should have pained
the Head Porter. In my live character of Gaston de Nérac I command the
respect of flunkeydom. I give my card
He produced from his pocket and flourished in the air an ornate,
heavily printed visiting-card of somewhat the size and appearance of
the Three of Spades. I felt greatly awed by the sight of this final
emblem of respectability.
I give my card, he repeated, and the Hôtel Meurice prostrates
itself before me.
While Paragot was playing on the lighter side of the conjuncture, my
mind danced in wonder and delight. I read the letter, which he left in
my hands, several times over. He was cleared in Joanna's eyes; nay
more, he stood revealed a hero. The generous ardour of youth bedewed my
Master, I cried, this must be wonderful news for you.
He nodded over his coffee cup.
You are right, my little Asticot; it is, he answered gravely.
* * * * *
When I called at the Hôtel Meurice at noon, I was conducted with
embarrassing ceremony to Madame de Verneuil's private sitting-room, and
on my way I rehearsed, in some trepidation, the polite formula of
condolence which Paragot had taught me. When I entered, the sight of
Joanna's face drove polite formulæ out of my head. She was dressed in
black, it is true, but the black only set off the shell pink of her
cheeks and the blue of her eyes which were no longer frozen, but
laughed at me, as if a visit of condolence were the gayest event
It is so good of you, Mr. Asticot, to come and see me. Mr. de Nérac
tells me you have travelled straight from Somerset in order to do it.
How is the West Country looking? I am of the West Country myselfone
of these days you will let me shew it you. I like him much better,
Gaston, dressed like an Englishman, instead of in that dreadful student
get-up, which makes him look like a brigand. Yes, England has agreed
with him. Oh! do take off your gloves and put your hat down. I am not a
French mamma with a daughter whose hand you are asking. Gaston, I am
sure you told him to keep on his gloves!
I am responsible for his decorum, Joanna, said my Master,
I noticed that he too had discarded hat, gloves and umbrella which
lay forlorn on a distant table. Still his coat was buttoned, and he sat
bolt upright on his chair. Madame de Verneuil's silvery voice rippled
on. She was girlishly excited.
I have persuaded Mr. de Nérac to lunch with me, she said happily.
And you must do the same. Will you ring the bell? We'll have it up
here. And now tell me about Somerset.
Never was there a sweeter lady than mine. Yes, I call her mine; and
with reason. Was she not the first vision of gracious womanhood that
came into my childhood's world? Up to then woman to me was my mother
and Mrs. Housekeeper. Joanna sprang magically, as in an Arabian Night,
out of an old stocking. Never was there a sweeter lady than mine. She
welcomed me as if such things as wash-tubs, tambourines, Café Delphines
and absinthiated Paragots had never existed, and I were one of her own
How I long to get back, she cried when I had told her of my modest
exploits at the Ewings. I have not been to Melford for five years.
When will you come, Gaston?
They had evidently made good use of their previous interviews.
I am going to live in England, she explained. At first I shall
stay with my mother at Melford. She is an old friend of Mr. de Nérac's.
Oh, Gaston, she does so want to see youI have told her the whole
storyof course she knew all my poor father's affairs. And I have a
cousin whose people live at Melford too, Major WaltersI don't think
you know hima dear fellow. He has just been at Nevers helping me to
settle up things. He is my trustee. You must be great friends.
I remember the name, said Paragot.
Why of course you ought to, she cried prettily with a laugh and a
blush. I had forgotten. You were pleased to be jealous of him. Mr.
Asticot, you will have to forgive us for dragging memories out of the
dust heap. It is all so very long ago. Dear me! Her face grew
pathetic. It is very long ago, Gaston.
Thirteen years, said he.
I calculated. Joanna was a grown-up woman about to be married when
my age was six. I suddenly felt very young indeed.
The waiters set the lunch. Joanna, most perfect of hostesses,
presided gaily, cracked little jokes for my entertainment and inspired
me with the power of quite elegant conversation. Paragot preserved his
correct demeanour and, to my puzzledom, spoke very little. I wondered
whether the repressive influence lay in the spats or the purple cravat
with the yellow spots. As a painter I didn't like the cravat. He drank
a great deal of water with his wine. I noticed him once pause in the
act of conveying to his mouth a bit of bread held in his fingers with
which he had mopped up the sauce in his plate, and furtively conceal it
between his cutlet bonesa manoeuvre which, at the time, I could not
understand. In the Quartier Latin we cleaned our plates to a
bright polish with bits of bread. How else could you consume the sauce?
At the end of the meal Joanna gave us permission to smoke.
I won't smoke, thank you, said Paragot politely.
Rubbish! laughed Joanna, whereupon Paragot produced a cigarette
case from the breast pocket of his frock coat. Paragot and a
cigarette-case! Once more it was abracadabrant! He also refused
cognac with his coffee.
After a time, still feeling that I was very young, and that my
seniors might have further confidential things to say to each other, I
rose to take my leave. Paragot rose too.
I would ask you to stay, Gaston, if I hadn't my wretched lawyer to
see this afternoon. But you'll come in for an hour after dinner, won't
you? No one knows I'm in Paris. Besides, at this time of year there is
no one in Paris to know.
Willingly, said Paragot, but les convenances
Joanna's pretty lips parted in astonishment.
Youpreaching the proprieties?My dear Gaston!
I turned to the window and looked at the Tuileries Gardens which
baked in the afternoon sun. The two spoke a little in low voices, but I
could not help overhearing.
Is it true, Gaston, that you have wanted me all these years?
I want you as much now as I did then.
I, too, whispered Joanna.
AS we emerged from the Hôtel Meurice I turned instinctively to the
left. Paragot drew me to the right.
Henceforward, said he, I resume the Paris which is my birthright.
We will forget for a moment that there are such places as the Boulevard
Saint-Michel and the Rue des Saladiers.
We walked along the Rue de Rivoli and taking the Rue Royale passed
the Madeleine and arrived at the Café de la Paix. It was a broiling
afternoon. The cool terrace of the café invited the hot wayfarer to
Master, said I, isn't it almost time for your absinthe?
He raised his lemon kids as if he would ban the place.
My little Asticot, I have abjured absinthe and forsworn cafés. I
have broken my new porcelain pipe and have cut my finger-nails. As I
enter on the path of happiness, I scatter the dregs and shreds and
clippings of the past behind me. I divest myself of all the crapulous
If he had divested himself of the superfluous trappings of
respectability beneath which he was perspiring freely, I thought he
would have been happier. The sight of the umbrella alone made one feel
moist, to say nothing of the spats.
We might have some grenadine syrup, I suggested ironically.
Willingly, said he.
So we sat and drank grenadine syrup and water. He gave me the
impression of a cropped lion sucking lollipops.
It is peculiarly nasty and unsatisfying, he remarked after a sip,
but doubtless I shall get used to it. I shall have to get used to a
devil of a lot of things, my son. As soon as the period of her
widowhood has elapsed I hope to marry Madame de Verneuil.
Marry Madame de Verneuil? I cried, the possibility of such an
occurrence never having crossed my mind.
Why not? When two people of equal rank love and are free to marry,
why should they not do so? Have you any objection?
No, Master, said I.
I shall resume my profession, he announced, lighting a cigarette,
and in the course of a year or two regain the position to which an
ancient Prix de Rome is entitled.
I was destined that day to go from astonishment to astonishment.
You a Prix de Rome, Master?
Yes, my son, in Architecture.
He was clothed in a new and sudden radiance. To a Paris art student
a Prix de Rome is what a Field Marshal is to a private soldier,
a Lord Chancellor to the eater of dinners in the Temple. I must confess
that though my passionate affection for him never wavered, yet my
childish reverence had of late waned in intensity. I saw his faults,
which is incompatible with true hero-worship. But now he sprang to
cloud summits of veneration. I looked awe-stricken at him and beheld
nothing but an ancient Prix de Rome. Then I remembered our
enthusiasm over the Palace of Dipsomania.
They said you were an architect that night at the Café Delphine, I
I was a genius, said Paragot modestly. I used to think in
palaces. Most men's palaces are little buildings written big. My small
buildings were palaces reduced. I could have roofed in the whole of
Paris with a dome. My first commission was to put a new roof on a
Baptist Chapel in Ireland. It was then that I met Madame de Verneuil
after an interval of five years. We are second cousins. Her father and
my mother were first cousins. I have known her since she was born. When
I was at Rugby, I spent most of my holidays at her house. You must take
all this into account, my little Asticot, before you begin to criticise
my plans for the future.
By this time the nerve or brain cell whereby one experiences the
sensation of amazement was numb. If Paragot had informed me that he had
been a boon companion of King Qa and had built the pyramids of Egypt I
should not have been surprised. I could only record the various facts.
Paragot was at Rugby.
Paragot was Joanna's second cousin.
Paragot was a Prix de Rome.
Paragot was a genius who had put a new roof to a Baptist Chapel in
Paragot was going to marry Joanna.
How he proposed to start in practice at his age, with no connection,
I did not at the moment enquire. Neither did Paragot. It was Paragot's
easy way to leap to ends and let the means take care of themselves. He
drained his glass meditatively and then with a wry face spat on the
If I don't have a cognac, my little Asticot, said he, I shall be
sick. To-morrow I may be able to swallow syrup without either
salivation or the adventitious aid of alcohol.
He summoned the languid waiter and ordered fine champagne.
Everything seemed languid this torrid afternoon, except the British or
American tourists who passed by with Baedekers under their arms. The
cab-horses in the file opposite us dropped their heads and the
glazed-hatted cabmen regarded the baking Place de l'Opéra with more
than their usual apathy. It looked more like the market place of a
sleepy provincial town than the heart of Paris. When the waiter had
brought the little glass in a saucer and the verseur had poured
out the brandy, Paragot gulped it down and cleared his throat noisily.
I drowsed in my chair, feeling comfortably tired after my all night
journey. Suddenly I awakened to the fact that Paragot was telling me
the story of Joanna and the Comte de Verneuil.
She was exquisite. She was fragrant. She was an English rosebud wet
with morning-dew. She had all manner of attributes with which I was
perfectly well acquainted. They loved with the ardour of two young and
noble souls. (Your ordinary Englishman would not thus proclaim the
nobility of his soul; but Paragot, remember, was half Frenchand
Gascon to bootand the other half Irish.) It was more than loveit
was a consuming passion; which was odd in the case of an English
rosebud wet with morning-dew. However, I suppose Paragot meant that he
swept the beloved maiden off her feet with his own vehemence; and
indeed she must have loved him truly. He was fresh from the Villa
Medici, the Paradise where all the winners of the Prix de Rome
in the various arts complete their training; he had won an important
competition; fortune smiled on him; he had only to rule lines on
drawing paper to become one of the great ones of the earth. He became
engaged to Joanna.
Now, Joanna's father, Simon Rushworth, was a London solicitor in
very fashionable practice; a man of false geniality, said Paragot, who
smiled at you with lips but seemed always to be looking at some hell
over your shoulder. He also promoted companies, and the Comte de
Verneuil, an Anglo-French financier, stood ever by his elbow, using him
as his tool and dupe and drawer in general of chestnuts from the fire.
The Comte wanted to marry Joanna, which was absurd, seeing that I was
his rival, said Paragot simply.
One of Mr. Rushworth's companies failed. Mr. Rushworth's fashionable
clients grew alarmed. He gave a party in honour of Joanna's engagement
and invited all his clients. Ugly rumours spread among the guests. The
presage of disaster was in the air. Paragot began to suspect the truth.
It was a hateful party. The band in the garden played selections from
Orphée aux Enfers, and the mocking refrain accompanied the last words
he was to have with Joanna. The Comte de Verneuil called him aside,
explained Rushworth's position. Ten thousand pounds of his clients'
money which he held in trust had gone in the failure of the company. If
that amount was not at his disposal the next morning, he was finished,
snuffed out. It appeared that no one in Paris or London would lend him
the money, his credit being gone. Unless M. de Nérac could find the ten
thousand pounds there was the gaol yawning with horrible certainty for
M. de Nérac's prospective father-in-law. As Paragot's patrimony,
invested in French government securities, was not a third of this sum,
he could do nothing but wring his hands in despair and call on
Providence and the Comte de Verneuil. The former turned a deaf ear. The
latter declared himself a man of business and not a philanthropist; he
was ready however to purchase an option on the young lady's affections.
Did not M. de Nérac know what an option was? He would explain. He
drafted the famous contract. In return for Paragot's signature he would
hand him a cheque drawn in favour of Simon Rushworth.
Nom de Dieu! cried Paragot, banging the marble table, with
his fist, Do you see in what a vice he held me? He was a devil, that
man! The only human trait about him was a passion for rare apes of
which he had a collection at Nevers. Thank Heaven they are dead! Thank
Heaven he is dead! Thank Heaven he lost most of the money for which he
preyed on his kind. He was a vulture, a scaly-headed vulture. He was
the carrion kite above every rotten financial concern in London and
Paris. That which went near to ruin my poor vain fool of a
father-in-law filled his bulging pockets. I hated him living and I hate
He tore open his frock coat and pushed the flat brimmed silk hat to
the back of his head and waved his lemon kids in his old extravagant
What did the stolen ten thousand pounds matter to him? It mattered
prison to Rushworth, Joanna's fatherthink of the horror of it! She
would have died from the disgraceher mother too. And the devil
jested, Asticot. He talked of Rushworth being smitten with the slings
and black arrows of outrageous fortune. Nom de Dieu, I could
have strangled him! But what could I do? Two years! To go out of her
life for two years as if I had been struck dead! Yet after two years I
could come back and say what I chose. I signed the contract. I went out
of the house. I kept my word. Noblesse oblige. I was Gaston de
Nérac. I came back to Paris. I worked night and day for eighteen
months. I had genius. I had hope. I had youth. I had faith. She would
never marry the Comte de Verneuil. She would not marry anybody. I
counted the days. Meanwhile he posed as the saviour of Simon Rushworth.
He poisoned Joanna's mind against me. He lied, invented infamies. This
I have heard lately. He confessed it all to her before the devil took
him as a play-fellow. Of one who had so cruelly treated her all things
were possible. She half believed them. At last he told her I was dead.
An acquaintance had found me in a Paris hospital and had paid for my
funeral. She had no reason for disbelief. He pressed his suit. Her
father and mother urged herthe fool Rushworth soon afterwards came to
another crisis, and de Verneuil again stepped in and demanded Joanna as
the price. She is gentle. She has a heart tenderer than that of any
woman who ever lived. One day I heard she had married him. My God! It
is thirteen years ago.
He poured some water into the syrup glass and gulped it down. I
remained silent. I had never seen him give way to violent emotionsave
oncewhen he broke the fiddle over Mr. Pogson's head.
Presently he said with a whimsical twist of his lips:
You may have heard me speak of a crusader's mace.
That's when I used it. I had an inspiration, he remarked quietly.
Master, said I after a while, if Madame de Verneuil believed you
to be dead, it must have been a shock to her when she saw you alive at
She learned soon after her marriage that her husband had been
mistaken. Her mother had caught sight of me in Venice. Madame de
Verneuil never forgave him the lie. She is gentle, my son, but she has
It was after that, I think, that the frozen look came into her eyes.
Thenceforward she was ice to the Comte de Verneuil, who for pleasant,
domestic companionship had to resort to his rare apes. No wonder his
madness took the form of the fixed idea that he had murdered Paragot.
After all, he mused, there must have been some good in the man.
He desired to make amends. He sent me the old contract, so that his
wife should not find it after his death. He confessed everything to her
before he died. There is a weak spot somewhere in the heart of the
Devil himself. I shouldn't wonder if he were devoted to a canary.
Master, said I, suddenly bethinking me of the canary in the Rue
des Saladiers, if you marry Madame de Verneuil, what will become of
She will come and live with us, of course.
H'm! said I.
Respect forbade downright contradiction. I could only marvel mutely
at his pathetic ignorance of woman. Indeed, his reply gave me the shock
of an unexpected stone wall. He, who had but recently taught me the
chart of Fanchette's soul, to be unaware of elementary axioms! Did I
not remember Joanna's iciness at Aix-les-Bains when I told her of his
adoption of my zither-playing colleague? Was I not aware of poor
Blanquette's miserable jealousy of the beautiful lady who enquired for
her master? To bring these two together seemed, even to my boy's mind,
a ludicrous impossibility. Yet Paragot spoke with the unhumorous
gravity of a Methodist parson and the sincerity of a maiden lady with a
mission to obtain good situations for deserving girls; a man, so please
you, who had gone into the holes and corners of the Continent of Europe
in search of Truth, who had come face to face with human nature naked
and unashamed, who had run the gamut of femininity from our rare
princess Joanna to the murderer's widow of Prague; a man who ought to
have had so sensitive a perception that the most subtle and elusive
harmonies of woman were as familiar to him as their providential love
of babies or their ineradicable passion for new hats.
He lit another cigarette, having dallied in a somewhat youthful
fashion with the newly acquired case, and blew two or three contented
I believe in the Roman conception of the familia, my son.
You and Blanquette are included in mine. You being a man must go
outside the world and make your way; but Blanquette, being a woman,
must remain under the roof of the paterfamilias which is
I foresaw trouble.
* * * * *
When he left me after dinner to pay his promised visit to Joanna, I
went in quest of Cazalet of the sandals, with whom I spent a profitable
evening discussing the question of Subject in Art. Bringard and Bonnet
and himself had rented a dilapidated stable in Menilmontant which they
had fitted up as a studio, and, as his two colleagues were away,
Cazalet had displayed his own horrific canvases all over the place. The
argument, if I remember right, was chiefly concerned with Cazalet's
subject in art over which we fought vehemently; but though the sabre of
his father hung proudly on the wall, he did not challenge me to a duel.
Instead, he invited me to join the trio in the rent of the studio, and
I, suddenly struck with the advantage and importance of having a studio
of my own, gladly accepted the proposal. When one can say my studio,
one feels that one is definitely beginning one's professional career. I
left him to sleep on some contrivance of sacking which he called a bed,
and trudged homewards to the Boulevard Saint-Michel. Curiosity tempted
me to look into the Café Delphine. It was deserted. Madame Boin opened
her fat arms wide and had it not been for the intervening counter would
have clasped me to her bosom. What had become of Monsieur Paragot? It
was more than a fortnight since he had been in the café. I lied, drank
a glass of beer and went home. I could not take away Paragot's
character by declaring his reversion to respectability.
MY taking the share of the stable-studio in Menilmontant had one
You must paint my portrait, said Joanna.
Madame, I cried, if I only could!
What is your charge for portraits, Mr. Asticot?
Paragot set down his tea-cup and looked at me with a shade of
anxiety. We were having tea at the Hôtel Meurice.
The pleasure of looking a long time at the sitter, Madame, said I.
That is very well said, my son, Paragot remarked.
You will not make a fortune that way. However, if you will
play for love this time
She smiled and handed me the cakes.
Where did you say your studio was?
But, Madame, you can't go there! I expostulated. It is in the
slums of Menilmontant beyond the Cemetery of Père Lachaise. The place
is all tumbling downand Cazalet sleeps there.
Who is Cazalet?
A yellow-haired Caliban in sandals, said Paragot.
Joanna clapped her hands like a child.
I should love to go. Perhaps Mr. de Nérac would come with me, and
protect me from Caliban. If you won't, she added seeing that Paragot
was about to raise an objection, I will go by myself.
There are no chairs to sit upon, I said warningly.
I will sit upon Caliban, she declared.
Thus it came to pass that I painted the portrait of Madame de
Verneuil in periods of ecstatic happiness and trepidation. She came
every day and sat with unwearying patience on what we called the model
throne, the one comfortless wooden arm-chair the studio possessed,
while Paragot mounted guard near by on an empty box. Everything
delighted herthe approach through the unsavoury court-yard, the dirty
children, the crazy interior, Cazalet's ghastly and unappreciated
masterpieces, even Cazalet himself, who now and then would slouch
awkwardly about the place trying to hide his toes. She expressed
simple-hearted wonder at the mysteries of my art, and vowed she saw a
speaking likeness in the first stages of chaotic pinks and blues. I
have never seen a human being so inordinately contented with the world.
I am like a prisoner who has been kept in the dark and is let out
free into the sunshine, she said one day to Paragot, who had remarked
on her gaiety. I want to run about and dance and smell flowers and
clap my hands.
In these moments of exuberance she seemed to cast off the shadow of
the years and become a girl again. I regarded her as my contemporary;
but Paragot with his lined time-beaten face looked prematurely old.
Only now and then, when he got into fierce argument with Cazalet and
swung his arms about and mingled his asseverations with the quaint
oaths of the Latin Quarter, did he relax his portentous gravity.
That is just how he used to go on, she laughed confidentially to
me, her pink-shell face close to mine. He was a whirlwind. He carried
everybody off their feet.
She caught my eye, smiled and flushed. I quite understood that it
was she who had been carried off her feet by my tempestuous master.
Mais sacré mille cochons, tu n'y comprends rien du tout!
cried Paragot, at that moment. I, knowing that this was not a proper
expression to use before ladies, kept up the confidential glance for a
I hope he didn't use such dreadful language.
You couldn't in English, could you? He always spoke English to me.
In French it is different. I like it. What did he say? 'Sacré mille
She imitated him delightfully. You have no idea what a dainty
musical phrase this peculiarly offensive expletive became when uttered
by her lips.
After all, she said, it only means 'sacred thousand pigs'but
why aren't you painting, Mr. Asticot?
Because you have got entirely out of pose, Madame.
Whereupon it was necessary to fix her head again, and my silly
fingers tingled as they touched her hair. It is a good thing for a boy
of nineteen to be romantically in love with Joanna. He can thus live
spiritually beyond his means, without much danger of bankruptcy, and
his extravagance shall be counted to him for virtue. Also if he is
painting the princess of his dreams, he has such an inspiration as is
given but to the elect, and what skill he is possessed of must succeed
in its purpose.
One morning she found on her arrival a bowl of roses, which I had
bought in the markets, placed against her chair on the dais. She
uttered a little cry of pleasure and came to me both hands
outstretched. Taking mine, she turned her head, in an adorable
attitude, half upwards to Paragot.
I believe it is Mr. Asticot who is in love with me, Gaston. Aren't
I blushed furiously. Paragot smiled down on her.
Hasn't every man you met fallen in love with you since you were two
I forgive you, she cried, because you still can make pretty
speeches. Thank you for the roses, Mr. Asticot. If I wore one would you
paint it in? Or would it spoil your colour scheme?
I selected the rose which would best throw up the pink sea-shell of
her face, and she put it gaily in her corsage. She pirouetted up to the
dais and with a whisk of skirts seated herself on the throne.
If any of my French friends and relations knew I were doing this
they would die of shock. It's lovely to defy conventions for a while.
One will soon have to yield to them.
Conventions are essential for the smooth conduct of social
affairs, remarked Paragot.
She looked at him quizzically. My dear Gaston, if you go on
cultivating such unexceptional sentiments, they'll turn you into
a churchwarden as soon as you set foot in Melford.
I had seen, for the first time in my life, a churchwarden in
Somerset, a local cheesemonger of appalling correctitude. If Paragot
ever came to resemble him, he was lost. There would be an entity who
had passed through Paragot's experiences; but there would be no more
You must save him, Madame, I cried, from being made a
Paragot lit a cigarette. I watched the first few puffs, awaiting a
repartee. None came. I felt a qualm of apprehension. Was he already
becoming de-Paragot-ised? I did not realise then what it means to a man
to cast aside the slough of many years' decay, and take his stand clean
before the world. He shivers, is liable to catch cold, like the tramp
whose protective hide of filth is summarily removed in the workhouse
bath. Nor did my dear lady realise this. How could she, bright freed
creature, hungering after the long withheld joyousness of existence,
and overwilling to delude herself into the belief that every shadow was
a ray of sunlight? She had no notion of the man's grotesque struggles
to conceal the shivering sensitiveness of his roughly cleaned soul.
She twitted him merrily.
You can argue like a tornado with Monsieur Cazalet, but you think I
must be talked to like this country's jeune fille à marier.
Isn't he perverse, Mr. Asticot? I think I am quite as entertaining as
Well you see, when he talked to Cazalet, he slipped on the slough
again and was comfortable.
He waited for a moment or two as if he were composing a speech, and
then rose and drawing near her, said in a low voice, thinking that as I
was absorbed in my painting I could not hear:
This new happiness is too overwhelming for fantastic talk.
Oh no it isn't, she declared in a whisper. We have put back time
thirteen yearswe wipe out of our minds all that has happened in them,
and start just where we left off. You were fantastic enough then, in
I had the world at my feet and I kicked it about like a football.
He hunched up his shoulders in a helpless gesture. Somehow the
football burst and became a helpless piece of leather.
I haven't the remotest idea what you mean, laughed Joanna.
Madame, said I, if you turn your head about like that I shall get
you all out of drawing.
Oh dear, said Joanna, resuming her pose.
These were enchanted days, I think, for all of us. Even Cazalet felt
the influence and put on a pair of gaudily striped socks over which his
sandals would not fit. Joanna was very tender to him, as to everybody,
but she appeared to draw her skirts around her on passing him by, as if
he were a slug, which she did not love but could not harm for the
world. Paragot, having for some absurd reason forsworn his porcelain
pipe, smoked the cigarette of semi-contentment and fulfilled his
happiness by the contemplation of Joanna and myself. I verily believe
he was more at his ease when I was with them. As for the portrait, he
viewed its progress with enthusiastic interest. Now and then he would
forget himself and discourse expansively on its merits, to the delight
of Joanna. He regarded it as his own production. Had he not bought this
poor little devil and all his works for half-a-crown? Ergo, the work
taking shape on the canvas was his, Paragot's. What could be more
logical? And it was he who had given me my first lessons. No mother
showing off a precocious brat to her gossips could have displayed more
overweening pride. It was pathetic, and I loved him for it, and so did
The time came howeverall too soon-when Madame de Verneuil could
live in her Land of Cockaigne no longer. Convention claimed her. Her
cousin, Major Walters, was coming from England to aid her in final
arrangements with the lawyers, and he was to carry her off in a day or
two to Melford. At the end of the last sitting she looked round the
dismal placeit had discoloured, uneven, bulging whitewashed walls, an
unutterably dirty loose plank floor, and a skylight patched with maps
of hideous worlds on Mercator's projection, and was furnished with
packing cases and grime and the sacking which was Cazalet's bedand
sighed wistfully, as if she had been an unoffending Eve thrust out of
I have been so happy here, she said to me. I wonder whether I
shall ever be so happy again! Do you think I shall?
I noticed her give a swift, sidelong glancealmost
imperceptibleat Paragot, who had sauntered down the studio to look at
one of Cazalet's pictures.
The first time you saw me, she added, as I found nothing to say,
you announced that you were learning philosophy. Haven't you learned
enough yet to answer me?
Madame, I replied, driven into a corner, happiness is such an
awfully funny thing. You find it when you least expect it, and when you
expect it you often don't find it.
Is that supposed to be comforting or depressing, Mr. Asticot?
I think we had better ask my master, Madame, I said. He can tell
you better than I.
But she shook her head and did not ask Paragot.
* * * * *
My son, said Paragot that evening by his window in the Rue des
Saladiers, trying to disintegrate some fresh air from the fetid odours
that rose from the narrow street below, you have won Madame de
Verneuil's heart. You are a lucky little Asticot. And I am proud of you
because I made you. You are a proof to her that I haven't spent all my
life in absorbing absinthe and omitting to decorate Europe with
palaces. Instead of bricks and mortar I have worked in soul-stuff and
my masterpiece is an artist,and a great artist, by the Lord God! he
cried with sudden access of passion, if you will keep 'the sorrowful
great gift' pure and undefiled as a good woman does her chastity. You
must help me in my work, my son. Let me be able to point to you as the
one man in the world who does not prostitute his art for money or
reputation, who sees God beneath a leper's skin and proclaims Him
bravely, who reveals the magical beauty of humanity and compels the
fool and the knave and the man with the muck-rake and the harlot to see
it, and sends them away with hope in their hearts, and faith in the
destiny of the race and charity to one anotherlet me see this, my
son, and by heavens! I shall have done more with my life than erect a
temple made by handsand I shall have justified my existence. You will
do this for me, Asticot?
I was young. I was impressionable. I loved the man with a passionate
gratitude. I gave my promise. Heaven knows I have tried to keep
itwith what success is neither here nor there.
The fantastic element in the psychological state of Paragot I did
not consider then, but now it moves me almost to tears. Just think of
it. I was his one apologia pro vita sua; his one good work which
he presented with outstretched hands and pleading eyes, to Joanna. I
love the man too well to say more.
* * * * *
Madame de Verneuil went away leaving both of us desolate. Even the
prospect of visiting Melford a month henceat Mrs. Rushworth's cordial
invitationonly intermittently raised Paragot's spirits. It did not
affect mine at all. I felt that a glory had faded from Menilmontant.
Still, I had the portrait to finish, and the preliminary sketches to
make of a deuce of a mythological picture for which Cazalet and
Fanchette (who for want of better company had become addicted during
August to my colleague) were to serve as models. I had my head and
hands full of occupation, whereas the reorganized Paragot had none. He
talked in a great way of resuming his profession, and even went the
length of buying drawing-paper and pins, and drawing-board and
T-squares and dividers and other working tools of the architect. But as
a man cannot design a palace or a pigstye and put it on the market as
one can a book or a picture, he made little headway with his project.
He obtained the conditions of an open competition for an Infectious
Diseases Hospital somewhere in Auvergne, and talked grandiosely about
this for a day or two; but when he came to set out the plan he found
that he knew nothing whatever about the modern requirements of such a
building and cared less.
I will wait, my son, until there is something worthy of an artist's
endeavour. A Palace of Justice in an important town, or an Opera House.
Hospitals for infectious diseases do not inspire one, and I need
inspiration. Besides, the visit to Melford would break the continuity
of my work. I begin, my son Asticot, when I come back, and then you
will see. An ancient Prix de Rome, nom de nom! has artistic
responsibilities. He must come back in splendour like Holger Danske
when he wakes from his enchanted slumber to conquer the earth.
Poor Holger Danske! When he does wake up he will find his conquering
methods a trifle out of date. Paragot did not take this view of his
simile. I believed him, however, and looked forward to the day when his
winning design for a cathedral would strike awe into a flabbergasted
* * * * *
My son, said he a day or two after he had resolved upon this
Resurrection in State, I want Blanquette. An orderly household cannot
be properly conducted by the intermittent ministrations of a
Our good Blanquette, believing as I had done, that the Master was
riding about France on a donkey, was still in villégiatura with our
farmer friends near Chartres, and in order that she should have as long
a holiday as possible he had hitherto forbidden me to enlighten her as
to his change of project.
Besides, he added, Blanquette has a place in my heart which the
concierge hasn't. I also want those I love to share the happiness that
has fallen to my lot. You will write to her my son and ask whether she
wants to come home.
She will take the first train, said I.
Blanquette is a curious type of the absolute feminine, he
remarked. She is never happier than when she can regard us as a couple
of babies. Her greatest delight would be to wash us and feed us with a
Master, said I, somewhat timidly, I think Blanquette is sometimes
just a little bit miserable because you don't seem to care for her.
He regarded me in astonishment.
I not care for Blanquette? But you ridiculous little lump of
idiocy! will you never understand? She, like you, is part of myself.
He thumped his chest as usual. In the name of petticoats, what does
she want? In Russia I met an honest German artisan who had married a
peasant girl. After a month's unclouded existence she broke down
beneath the load of misery. Her husband didn't love her. Why? Because
they had been married a whole month and he hadn't beaten her yet! Does
the child want me to beat her? I believe lots of women do. And you,
mindless little donkey, what do you want me to make of her? Your head
is full of the imbecilities of the studio. Because I keep her here like
my daughter, and have not made her my mistress, you take it upon
yourself to conclude that I have no affection for her. Bah! You know
nothing. You have lived with me all these years, and you know nothing
whatever about me. You don't even know Blanquette. Beneath an
unprepossessing exterior she has a heart of gold. She has every
large-souled quality that a woman can stuff into her nature. She would
live on cheese-rind and egg shells, if she thought it would benefit
either of us. I not care for Blanquette? You shall see.
So the following afternoon when we met Blanquette's train at the
Gare Saint-Lazare, Paragot had taken her into his arms and planted a
kiss on each of her broad cheeks before she realised who the
magnificent, clean-shaven welcomer in the silk hat really was.
When he released her, she stared at him even as I had done.
Maisqu'est-ce que c'est que ça? she cried, and I am sure
that the comfort of his kisses was lost in her entire bewilderment.
It is the Master, Blanquette, said I.
I know, but you are no longer the same. I shouldn't have recognised
Do you prefer me as I used to be?
Oui, Monsieur, said Blanquette.
I burst out laughing.
She is saying 'Monsieur' to the silk hat.
Méchant! she scolded. But it is true. She turned to the
master and asked him how he had enjoyed his holiday.
I never went, my little Blanquette.
You have been in Paris all the time?
And you only send for me now? But mon Dieu!how have you
Visions of hideous upheaval in the Rue des Saladiers floated before
her mind, and she hurried forward as if there was no time to be lost in
getting there. When we arrived she held up horror-stricken hands. The
dust! The dirt! The state of the kitchen! The Master's bedroom! Oh no,
decidedly she would not leave him again! She would only go to the
country after she had seen him well started in the train with a ticket
for a long way beyond Paris. There was a week's work in front of her.
Anyway, my little Blanquette, said Paragot, you are glad to be
It is never of my own free will that I would leave you, she
YOU perceive, said Paragot, waving a complacent hand, as soon as
Blanquette had retired to make the necessary purchases for the evening
meal, you perceive that she is perfectly happy. You were entirely
wrong. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
When my master adopted the Panglossian view of the universe I used
no arguments that might cloud his serenity. I acquiesced with mental
reservations. We talked for a time, Paragot sitting primly on a
straight-backed chair. He had abandoned his sprawling attitudes, for
fear, I suspect, of spoiling his new clothes. The position, however,
not making for ease of conversation, he presently took up a book and
began to read, while I amused myself idly by making a furtive sketch of
him. Since his metamorphosis he was by no means the entertaining
companion of his unregenerate days. He himself was oppressed, I fancy,
by his own correctitude. The eternal reading which filled so much of
his life did not afford him the same wholehearted enjoyment now, as it
did when he lolled dishevelled, pipe in mouth and glass within reach,
on bed or sofa. This afternoon, I noticed, he yawned and fidgeted in
his chair, and paid to his book the distracted attention of a person
reading a back number of a magazine in a dentist's waiting room. My
sketch, which I happen to have preserved, shows a singularly bored
Paragot. At last he laid the book aside, and gathering together hat,
gloves, and umbrella, the precious appanages of his new estate, he
announced his intention of taking the air before dinner. I remained
indoors to gossip with Blanquette during its preparation. I had
considerable doubts as to her optimistic view of things, and these were
confirmed as soon as the outer door closed behind my master, and the
salon door opened to admit Blanquette.
She came to me with an agitated expression on her face which did not
accord with perfect happiness of spirit.
Dis donc, Asticot, she cried. What does it mean? Why did
the master not go on his holiday? Why did he not send for me? Why has
he cut off his hair and beard and dressed himself like a Monsieur
? I know very well the master is a gentleman, but why has he changed
from what he used to be?
I temporised. My dear, said I, when you first knew me I wore a
blue blouse and boots with wooden soles. Almost the last time you had
the happiness of beholding me, I was clad in the purple and fine linen
of a dress-suit. You weren't alarmed at my putting on civilised
garments, why should you be excited at the master doing the same?
If you talk like the master, I shall detest you, exclaimed
Blanquette. You do it because you are hiding something. Ah, mon
petit frère, she said with a change of tone and putting her arm
round my neck, tell me what is happening. He is going to be married to
the beautiful lady, eh?
She looked into my eyes. Hers were deep and brown and a world of
pain lay behind them. I am a bad liar. She freed me roughly.
I see. It is true. He is going to be married. He does not want me
any longer. It is all finished. O mon Dieu, mon Dieu! What is to
become of me?
She wept, rubbing away the tears with her knuckles. I tried to
comfort her and lent her my pocket-handkerchief. She need have no fear,
I said. As long as the master lived her comfort was assured. She turned
Do you think I would let him keep me in idleness while he was
married to another woman? But no. It would be malhonnête. I
would never do such a thing.
She looked at me almost fiercely. There was something noble in her
pride. It would be dishonourable to accept without giving. She would
never do that, never.
But what will become of you, my dear Blanquette? I asked.
Look, Asticot. I would give him all that he would ask. I am his,
all, all, to do what he likes with. I have told you. I would sleep on
the ground outside his door every night, if that were his good
pleasure. It is not much that I demand. But he must be alone in the
room, entends-tu? Another woman comes to cherish him, and I no
longer have any place near him. I must be far away. And what would be
the good of being far away from him? What shall I do? Tiens, as
soon as he marries, je vais me fich' à l'eau.
You are going to do what? I cried incredulously.
She repeated that she would chuck herself into the riverSe
fich à l'eau is not the French of Racine. I remonstrated. She
retorted that if she could not keep the master's house in order there
was nothing left to live for. Much better be dead than eat your heart
out in misery.
You are talking like a wicked girl, said I severely, and it will
be my duty to tell the master.
She gave her eyes a final dab with my handkerchief which she
restored to me with an air of scornful resentment.
If you do, you will be infamous, and I will never speak to you
again as long as I live.
I descended from my Rhadamanthine seat and reflected that the
betrayal of Blanquette's confidence would not be a gallant action. I
maintained my dignity, however.
Then I must hear nothing more about you drowning yourself.
We will not talk of it any longer, said Blanquette, frigidly. I
am going to cook the dinner.
As the prim salon provided little interest for an idle youth, I
followed her into the slip of a kitchen, where I lounged in great
contentment and discomfort. Blanquette relapsed into her fatalistic
attitude towards life and seemed to dismiss the disastrous subject from
her mind. While she prepared the simple meal she entertained me with an
account of the farm near Chartres. There were so many cows, so many
ducks and hens and so many pigs. She rose at five every morning and
milked the cows. Oh, she had milked cows as a child and had not
forgotten the art. It was difficult for those who did not know.
Tiens! She demonstrated with finger and thumb and a lettuce how it
I shall not forget it, said I.
It is good to know things, she remarked seriously.
One never can tell, said I, when a cow will come to you weeping
to be milked: especially in the Rue des Saladiers.
That is true, replied Blanquette. The oddest things happen
Light satire was lost on Blanquette.
After dinner she continued the recital of her adventures for the
Master's delectation. The old couple no longer able to look after the
farm were desirous of selling it, so that they could retire to Evreux
where their only son who had married a rich wife kept a prosperous
Do you know what they said, Master. 'Why does not Monsieur Paragot,
who must be very rich, buy it from us and come to live in the country
instead of that dirty Paris?' C'est drôle, hein?
Why do they think I am very rich?
That is what I asked them. They said if a man did not work he must
be either rich or a rogue; and they know you are not a rogue, mon
They flatter me, said Paragot. Would you like to live in the
Oh yes! she cried with conviction. Il y a des bêtes. J'adore
ça. And then it smells so good.
It does, he sighed. I haven't smelt it for over three years. Ah!
to have the scent of the good wet earth in one's nostrils and the sound
of bees in one's ears. For two pins I would go gipsying again. If I
were a rich man, my little Blanquette, I would buy the farm, and give
it you as your dowry, and sometimes you would let me come and stay with
But as I shall never marry, mon Maître, there will be no
need of a dowry.
She said it smilingly, as if she welcomed her lot as a predestined
old maid. There was not a sign on her plain pleasant face of the
torment raging in her bosom. In my youthful ignorance I did not know
whether to deplore woman's deceit or to admire her stout-heartedness.
My child, said Paragot, no human being can, without arrogance,
say what he will or what he will not do. Least of all a woman.
Having uttered this profound piece of wisdom my master went to bed.
* * * * *
During the next few weeks Paragot suffered the boredom of a
provisional condition of existence. He went to bed early, for lack of
evening entertainment, and rose late in the morning for lack of daily
occupation. With what he termed the crapulous years, he had divested
himself of his former associates and habits. Friends that would
harmonise with his gloves and umbrella he had none as yet. If he
ordered an apéritif before the midday meal, it was on the
terrace of a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where he sat
devouring newspapers in awful solitude. Sometimes he took Blanquette
for a sedate walk; but no longer Blanquette en cheveux. He
bought her a mystical headgear composed as far as I could see of three
plums and a couple of feathers, which the girl wore with an air of
happy martyrdom. He discoursed to her on the weather and the political
situation. At this period he began to develop republican sympathies.
Formerly he had swung, according to the caprice of the moment, from an
irreconcilable nationalism to a fantastic anarchism. Now he was proud
to identify himself with the once despised bourgeoisie. He would
have taken to his bosom the draper papa of Hedwige of Cassel.
Most of his time he spent in the studio at Menilmontant; there at
any rate he was at ease. We were not too disreputable for the umbrella,
and though he deprecated the loose speech of Bringard and Bonnet who
had returned to Paris, and the queer personal habits of Cazalet, he
appeared to find solace in our society. At any rate the visits gave him
occupation. He also posed for the body of M. Thiers in an historical
picture which Bringard proposed to exhibit at the Salon the following
L'homme propose et Dieu expose, said Paragot.
If he is anything of a judge this ought to be hung on the line,
I regret to say the picture was rejected.
At last the time came for the Melford visit. Paragot consulted Ewing
and myself earnestly as to his outfit, and though he clung to his
frock-coat suit as a garb of ceremony, we succeeded in sending him away
with a semblance of English country-house attire. He took with him my
portrait of Joanna, packed in a wooden case and bearing, to my great
pride, the legend, Precious. Work of Art. With great care, in French
When he had gone I moved my belongings from my attic to the Rue des
Saladiers, and gave myself up to the ministrations of Blanquette.
A little while later I received from my dear lady an invitation to
visit Melford and paint the portrait of her mother, who regarded my
portrait of Joanna as a work of genius. If you are a young artist it
makes your head spin very pleasantly to hear yourself alluded to as a
genius. Later in life you do not quite like it, for you have bitter
knowledge of your limitations and are mortally afraid your kind
flatterers will find you out. But at twenty you really do not know
whether you are a genius or not. Mrs. Rushworth, however, backed her
opinion with a hundred guineas. A hundred guineas! When I read the
words I uttered a wild shriek which brought Blanquette in a fright from
the bedroom. It was a commission, Joanna explained, and I was to accept
it just like any other artist, and I was to stay with them, again like
any other artist, during the sittings.
I am to go to England to paint another portrait, Blanquette. How
much do you think I shall be paid for it?
Much? queried Blanquette, in her deliberate way.
I indicated with swinging arms a balloon of gold. Blanquette
Two thousand six hundred and twenty five francs, I cried.
Blanquette sat down in order to realise the sum. It was difficult
for her to conceive thousands of francs.
That will make you rich for the rest of your life.
It is only the beginning, I exclaimed hopefully.
Blanquette shook a reproachful head.
There are some folks who are never satisfied, she said.
WHEN I arrived at Melford my head was full of painting and
self-importance; and for the first week or so, Mrs. Rushworth, my
subject, occupied the centre of my stage. She was a placid lady of
sixty, whose hair, once golden, had turned a flossy white, and whose
apple cheeks, though still retaining their plumpness, had grown waxen
and were criss-crossed by innumerable tiny lines. The light blue of her
eyes had faded, and the rich redness of her lips had turned to faint
coral. One could trace how Time had day by day touched her with light
but unfaltering fingers, now abstracting a fleck of brightness, now
lowering by an imperceptible shade a tone of colour, until she had
become what I saw her, still the pink and white beauty, but with rose
all deadened into white, like a sick pink pearl. Her pink and white
character had also suffered the effacement of the years. She was as
dainty and as negative as a piece of Dresden China. She loved to dress
in lilac and old lace: and that is how I painted her, regarding her as
a bit of exquisite decoration to be treated flat like a panel of Puvis
My young head, I say, was full of the masterpiece I was about to
execute, and though I found much joy in renewed intercourse with my
beloved lady and my master, I took no particular note of their
relations. We met at meals, sometimes in the afternoons, and always of
evenings, when I played dutiful piquet with Mrs. Rushworth, while
Joanna made music on the piano, and Paragot read Jane Austen in an
arm-chair by the fire. To me the quietude of the secluded English home
had an undefinable charm like the smell of lavender, for which I have
always had a cat-like affection. Not having the Bohemian temperamentI
am now the most smugly comfortable painter in EuropeI was perfectly
happy. I took no thought of Paragot, whose temperament was essentially
Bohemian; and how he enjoyed the gentle monotony of the days it did not
occur to me to consider. Outwardly he shewed no sign of impatience. A
dean might have taken him as a model of decorum, and when he drove of
afternoons with Joanna in the dog-cart, no dyspeptic bishop could have
assumed his air of grim urbanity. But after a while I realised that the
old Paragot still smouldered within him; and now and then it burst into
Mrs. Rushworth had inherited from her father an old Georgian
Bath-stone house at the end of the High Street of Melford. He had been
the Duke of Wiltshire's agent and a person of note in the town. Mrs.
Rushworth also was a person of note, and her beautiful daughter, the
Countess, a lady of fortune, became a person of greater note still. Now
on Tuesday afternoons Mrs. Rushworth was at home. We saw a vast deal
of Society, ladies of county families, parsons' wives, doctors' wives
and the female belongings of the gentlemen farmers round about. There
were also a stray hunting man, a curate or two and Major Walters. The
callers sat about the drawing room in little groups drinking tea and
discoursing on unimportant and unintelligible matters, and seemed oddly
shy of Paragot and myself, whom Joanna always introduced most
graciously. They preferred to talk among themselves. I considered them
impolite, which no doubt they were; but I have since reflected that
Paragot was an unusual guest at an English country tea-party, and if
there is one thing more than another that an English country tea-party
resents, it is the unusual. I am sure that a square muffin would be
considered an indelicacy. On the second of these Tuesday gatherings
which I was privileged to attend, Joanna presented me to two
well-favoured young women, the daughters, I gathered, of people who had
country places near by.
Mr. Pradel is the artist from Paris who is painting mamma's
portrait, she explained.
I bowed and remarked that I was enchanted to make their
acquaintance. They stared. I know now that this Gallic mode of address
is not usual in Melford. One young woman, recovering from the shock,
said she would like to be an artist. The other asked me whether I had
been to the Academy. I said, no. I lived in Paris. Then had I been to
At Janot's, said I, with the idiot egregiousness of youth, we
don't go to the Salon.
Why? asked the first, looking across the room, apparently at a
On principle, I answered. In the first place it costs a franc
which might be spent in food and raiment, and in the second we desire
to preserve our ideals from the contaminating spectacle of commercial
Do you play much tennis? asked Number Two, with no desire to snub
me (as I deserved) for fatuity, but through sheer lack of interest in
No, said I.
No; there is not much shooting to be got in the Boulevard
Oh, she remarked. Where's that?
Paris, said I.
Oh yes. You live in Paris. And she regarded me with the expression
of bored curiosity exhibited by a superior child before the Yak's
enclosure at the Zoological Gardens. An English country-bred maiden's
cosmic horizon was sadly limited in those days. Now I believe she has
extended it to include the more depressing forms of drama when she pays
her annual visit to London. There was a silence after which she
enquired whether I fished. As my ideas of fishing were restricted to
the patient hostspale shades of Acheronwho have angled off the
quays of the Seine for centuries and have till now caught nothing, I
smiled and shook my head.
The Browns have taken a fishing in Scotland, observed Number One
taking her eyes from the curate, and I'm to join them next month.
Myra Brown is going to be married, I hear.
What is he like?
The hitherto unspeculative eyes of the young woman lit up; an
answering gleam awoke in the other's. Myra Brown and her engagement
absorbed their attention, and I slunk back in my chair, forgotten. I
suffered agonies of shyness. I disliked these foolish virgins and
longed to flee from them; but how to rise and make my escape, without
rudeness, passed my powers of invention. I looked around me. At the
tea-table on the farther side of the room stood Joanna and Major
Walters. He was a tall soldierly man with a blond moustache and fair
hair thinning on the crown. There are about two thousand like him at
the present moment on the active and retired list of the British Army.
He seemed to be talking earnestly to her, for her eyes were fixed on
the point of her shoe, which she moved slightly, from side to side.
Presently she flashed a glance at him somewhat angrily and her lips
moved as though she said:
What right have you to speak like that?
He made the Englishman's awkward paraphrase of the shrug, looked
swiftly over at Paragot, and turned to her with a remark. Then for the
first time since the Comte de Verneuil's death, the glacier blue came
into her eyes. She said something. He executed a little stiff bow and
walked away. Joanna, bearing herself very haughtily, crossed the room
with a cup of tea for a new arrival.
Paragot, gaunt and tight-buttoned in his famous frock coathe had
donned it for the ceremonious afternoon, but Joanna (I think) had
suppressed the purple cravat with the yellow spotswas talking to an
elderly and bony female owning a great beak of a nose. I wondered how
so unprepossessing a person could be admitted into a refined assembly,
but I learned later that she was Lady Molyneux, one of the Great
Personages of the county. The lady seemed to be emphatic; so did
Paragot. She regarded him stonily out of flint-blue eyes. He waved his
hands; she raised her eyebrows. She was one of those women whose
eyebrows in the normal state are about three inches from the eyelids. I
understood then what superciliousness meant. Paragot raised his voice.
At that moment one of those strange coincidences occurred in which the
ends of all casual conversations fell together, and a shaft of silence
sped through the room, killing all sound save that of Paragot's
But Great Heavens, Madam, babies don't grow in the cabbage patch,
and you are all well aware they don't, and it's criminal of your
English writers to mislead the young as to the facts of existence.
Charlotte Yonge is infinitely more immoral than Guy de Maupassant.
Then Paragot realized the dead stillness. He rose from his chair,
looked around at the shocked faces of the women and curates, and
laughing turned to Mrs. Rushworth.
I was stating Zola to be a great ethical teacher, and Lady Molyneux
seemed disinclined to believe me.
He is an author very little read in Melford, said the placid lady
from her sofa cushions, while the two or three women with whom she was
in converse gazed disapprovingly at my master.
It would do the town good if it were steeped in his writings, said
As this was at a period when like hell you could not mention the
name of Zola to ears polite, no one ventured to argue the matter. Mrs.
Rushworth's plump faded lips quivered helplessly, and it was with a
gush of gratitude that she seized the hand of one of the ladies who
rose to take her leave, and save the situation. The little spell of
shock was broken. Groups resumed their mysterious conversations, and
Paragot swung to the hearth-rug and stood there in solitary defiance. I
seized the opportunity to escape from my two damsels. As I passed Lady
Molyneux, she turned to her neighbour.
What a dreadful man! she said. I entirely disapprove of Mrs.
Rushworth having such persons in her house.
I could have wept with rage. Here was this turtle-brained, ugly
woman (so, in my presumption, I called her) daring to speak slightingly
of my beloved master who had condescended to speak out of his Olympian
wisdom, and no fire from Zeus shrivelled her up! She signified her
disapproval with the air of a law-giver, and the other woman
acquiesced. I longed to flame into defence of Paragot; but remembering
how ill I fared on a similar occasion when a member of the Lotus Club
accused him of having led a bear in Warsaw, I wisely held my peace. But
I was very angry.
I joined Paragot on the hearth-rug. Presently Joanna came with her
You mustn't be so dreadfully emphatic, Gaston, she said.
Unintelligent women must not lay down the law on matters they don't
understand, said Paragot.
But it was Lady Molyneux.
The sovereign lady of Melford.
God help Melford! ejaculated my master.
When the ladies had left us that evening after dinner, Paragot
poured out a glass of port and pushed the decanter across to me.
My son, said he, as a philosopher and a citizen of the world you
will find Melford repay patient study as much as Chambéry or Buda-Pesth
or the Latin Quarter. It is a garden of Lilliput. Here you will see
Life in its most cultivated littleness. A great passion bursting out
across the way would convulse the town like an earthquake. Observe at
the same time how constant a factor is human nature. However variable
the manifestation may be, the degree is invariable. In spacious
conditions it manifests itself in passions, in narrow ones in
prejudices. The females in and out of petticoats who were here this
afternoon experience the same thrill in expressing their dislike of me
as a person foreign to their convention, as the Sicilian who plunges
his dagger into a rival's bosom. When I am married, my son, I shall not
live at Melford.
Where do you propose to live, Master? I enquired.
He made a great gesture and drew a deep breath.
On the Continent of Europe, said he, as if even a particular
country were too cabined to satisfy his nostalgia for wide spaces. I
must have room, my son, for the development of my genius. I must dream
great things, and immortal visions are blasted under the basilisk eye
of Lady Molyneux.
She is a vieille pimbêche! I cried.
She is the curse of England, said Paragot.
* * * * *
After this it occurred to me that I might take more note of Melford
and its ways than I had done hitherto, and the more I observed it the
less did it appear to resemble either Eden or the Boulevard
Saint-Michel. At times I felt dull. I would lean over the parapet of
the bridge at the other end of the High Street, and watch the tower and
decorated spire of the old parish church rise from the gold and russet
bosom of the church-yard elms, and wish I were back on the Pont Neuf
with the tumultuous life of Paris around me. There was a lack of
breeziness in the social air of Melford.
Meanwhile Paragot and Joanna continued the romance of long ago. They
walked together in the garden like lovers, his arm around her waist,
her delicate head lightly leaning on his shoulder. Once when I made my
presence known, he withdrew his arm, but Joanna laughingly replaced it.
What does it matter? Asticot is in our confidence, she remarked.
Isn't he going to be your best man? You will bring him over for the
You cling to the idea of being married in Melford? he asked.
By that dry, grey-whiskered gentleman who treats me as if I were a
youth he would like to prepare for confirmation? And all these dreadful
people to look on? My dear, doesn't the thought of it chill you into
the corpse of a Melfordian?
I should have imagined that so long as we were married the 'how'
would not matter to you.
Quite so, said he. Why does the 'how' matter so much to you?
It is different, said Joanna. It is right for me to be married
We must do what is right at all costs, assented my master in an
ironical note, which she was quick to detect. She swerved from his
You would not be married under a bush like a beggar? she quoted.
I wish to heaven I could! he exclaimed with sudden spirit. It is
the only way of mating. I would take you to a little village I know of
in the Vosges, overhanging a precipice, with God's mountains and sky
above us, and not a schedule of regulations for human conduct within
thirty miles, and Monsieur le Maire would tie his tricolor scarf around
him and marry us, and we would go away arm in arm and the cow-bells
overhead would ring the wedding peal, and there would be just you and I
and the universe.
We'll compromise, said Joanna, smiling. We'll spend our honeymoon
in your village in the Vosges after we are well and duly and
respectably married in Melford. Don't you think I am reasonable,
My dear Joanna, said Paragot, you have infatuated this boy to
such an extent that he would agree with you in anything. Of course he
will say that the Reverend and respectable Mr. Hawkfield is better than
the picturesque Monsieur le Maire, and that a wedding cake from
Gunter's is preferable to the curdled cheese of Valdeauvau. He would
perjure his little soul to atoms for your sake.
I thought somebody else would too, whispered Joanna softly.
Paragot yielded as he looked down at her sea-shell face.
So he would. For your sake he would go through Hell and the Church
of England service for the Solemnization of Matrimony.
We were walking round and round the broad gravel path that enclosed
the tennis lawn. Land was cheap in the days when the Georgian houses of
the High Street were built, and people took as much for garden purposes
as they desired. The gardens were the only truly spacious things in
Melford. There was a long silence. The lovers seemed to have forgotten
my existence. Presently Joanna spoke.
You must remember that I am still a member of the Church of
England, and look at the religious side of marriage. It would be very
pretty to be married by Monsieur le Maire, but I could not reconcile it
to my conscience. So when you speak scoffingly of a marriage in church
you rather hurt me, Gaston.
You must forgive me, ma chérie, said he, humbly. I am a
happy Pagan and it is so long since I have met anyone who belonged to
the Church of England that I thought the institution had perished of
Why, you went with me to church last Sunday.
So I did, said he, but I thought it was only to worship the Great
British God Respectability.
Joanna sighed and turned the conversation to the autumn tints and
other impersonal things, and I noticed that she drew Paragot's arm
again around her waist, as if to reassure herself of something. As we
passed by the porch, I entered the house; but loving to look on my dear
lady, I lingered, and saw her hold up her lips. He bent down and kissed
Don't think me foolish, Gaston, she said, but I have starved for
love for thirteen years.
By the gesture of his arm and the working of his features, I saw
that he rhapsodised in reply.
To the sentimental youngster who looked on, this love-making seemed
an idyll without a disturbing breath. Joanna, though she had lost the
gay spontaneity of her Paris holiday, smiled none the less adorably on
Paragot and myself. She wore a little air of defiant pride when she
introduced him to her acquaintance as my cousin, Monsieur de Nérac,
which was very pretty to behold. Convention forbade the announcement of
their engagement at so early a stage of her widowhood, but anyone of
rudimentary intelligence could see that she was presenting her future
husband. Few women can hide that triumphant sense of proprietorship in
a man, especially if they have at the same time to hold themselves on
the defensive against the possible fulminations of Lady Molyneux.
Joanna proclaimed herself a champion. Even when Paragot forgot his
social reformation and banged his fist down on the dinner table till
the glasses rang again, with a great nom de Dieu! her glance
swept the company as if to defy them to find anything uncommon in the
demeanour of her guest. It was only towards the end of my stay that she
began to wince. And Paragot, save on occasion of outburst, went through
the love-making and the social routine with the grave but contented
face of a man who had found his real avocation.
Looking back on these idyllic days I realise the greatness of
Paragot's self-control. In his domestic habits he was less a human
being than a mechanical toy. At half past eight every morning he
entered the breakfast-room. At half past nine he went into the town to
get shaved. Had he an appointment with Joanna, he was there to the
minute. He clothed himself in what he considered were orthodox
garments. He even folded up his trousers of nights. He limited his
smoking to a definite number of cigarettes consumed at fixed hours.
Apparently he had never heard of the reprehensible habit of drinking
between meals. If he only went to church to worship the British God
Respectability, he did so with impeccable unction. No undertaker
listened to the funeral service with more portentous solemnity than
Paragot exhibited during the Vicar's sermon. Indeed, sitting bolt
upright in the pew, his lined, brown face set in a blank expression,
his ill-fitting frock coat buttoned tight across his chest, his
hairdespite the barber's painsstruggling in vain to obey the rules
of the unaccustomed parting, he bore considerable resemblance to an
undertaker in moderate circumstances. Of the delectable vagabond in
pearl-buttoned velveteens fiddling wildly to capering peasants; of the
long-haired, unkempt Dictator of the Café Delphine roaring his
absinthe-inspired judgments on art and philosophy for the delectation
of his disciples, not a trace remained. He sang the hymns. It was a
pity they did not invite him to go round with the plate. Yet the signs
of a rebellious spirit continued now and then to manifest themselves.
He asked me, one day, with a groan whether he was condemned to a daily
clean collar for the rest of his life. Another day he seized me by the
arm, as we were lounging on the porch, and dragged me out of earshot of
My good Asticot, said he in a dramatic whisper, if I don't talk
to a man, I shall go mad. I shall dance around the flower beds and
scream. I have a yearning to converse with the host of the Black Boar,
a fat Rabelaisian scoundrel who has piqued my imagination. And besides,
if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into my throat this minute
they would find it quite a different thing from Nebuchadnezzar's
There is no reason why we should not go to the Black Boar, said I.
He clapped me on the shoulder, calling me a Delphic oracle, and
haled me from the premises through the garden gate, with the lightning
rapidity of the familiar Paragot.
Master, said I, as we hastened down the High Streetthe Black
Boar stood at the other end, by the bridgeif you want a man to talk
to, there is always Major Walters.
Paragot threw out his hand.
He is a man, in that he is brave and masculine; in that he is
intelligent, he is naught. He is a machine-gun. He fires off rounds of
stereotyped conversation at the rate of one a minute, which is
funereal. I also have the misfortune, my little Asticot, to be under
the ban of Major Walters' displeasure. Your British military man is
prejudiced against anyone who is not cut out according to pattern.
Madame de Verneuil is not cut out according to pattern, said I
Your infant eyes have noticed it too? But I, my son, am Gaston de
Nérac, a vidame of Gascony, nom de Dieu! et il aura affaire à moi,
ce pantin-là! Sacredieu! Do you know what he had the impertinence
to ask me yesterday? What settlements I proposed to make on Madame de
Verneuil. Settlements, mon petit Asticot! He spoke as trustee,
whatever that may be, under her husband's will. 'Sir,' said I, 'I will
settle my love and my genius upon her, and thereby insure her happiness
and her prosperity. Besides, Madame de Verneuil has a fortune which
will suffice her needs and of which I will not touch a penny.'
I smiled, for I could see Paragot in his grand French manner, one
hand thrust between the buttons of his coat and the other waving
magnificently, as he proclaimed himself to Major Walters.
I explained, he continued, in terms which I thought might reach
his intelligence, that I only had to resume my profession and my
financial position would equal that of Madame de Verneuil. 'And, Sir,'
said I, 'I will not suffer you to say another word.' We bowed, and
parted enemies. Wherefore the conversation of the excellent Major
Walters does not appeal to me as attractive.
At the time I thought this very noble of Paragot. In a way it was
so, for my master, who had never committed a dishonourable action in
his life, was genuine in his scorn of the insinuation that he proposed
to live on Joanna's money. He verily believed himself capable of
reattaining fame and fortune. It was only the nuisance of having to do
so that, at introspective times, disconcerted him. He knew that to
break away from a thirteen-year-old habit of idleness would need
considerable effort. But he was a man, nom d'un chien!
To prove it he called for a quart of ale in the bar-parlour of the
Black Boar, an old coaching inn, set back from the road. The little
eyes of the fleshy rubicond host, loafing comfortably in shirt-sleeves,
glistened as he received the Pantagruelian order and brought the great
tankard with a modest half pint for me, and a jorum of rum for himself.
Paragot was worthy of a host's attention.
Paragot pledged him and literally poured the contents of the tankard
down his throat.
The landlord stared in an ecstasy of admiration.
Well, I'm damned, said he.
I'll take another, said Paragot.
The landlord brought another tankard.
How do you manage it? he asked.
Paragot explained that he had learned the art in Germany. You open
your throat to the good beer without moving the muscles whereby you
swallow, and down it goes.
Well, I'm jiggered, said mine host.
Have you no pretty drinkers hereabouts? asked my master, sipping
the second quart.
They lots of 'em comes here and gets fuddled, if that's what you
Paragot waved an impatient hand. To get fuddled on beer is not
pretty drinking. Haven't you any hard-headed topers who are famous in
the neighborhood? Men who can carry their liquor like gentlemen and
whose souls expand as they get more and more filled with the alcohol of
human kindness? If so, I should like to meet them.
There isn't any as could toss off a quart like that.
Have you always lived in Melford?
Oh no, replied the landlord, as if resenting the suggestion, I
was born and bred in Devizes.
It must be a devil of a place, Devizes, said Paragot.
It be none so bad, assented the landlord. A woman's voice from the
bar summoned him away. Paragot pushed his unfinished quart from him and
rose. He shook his head sadly.
I am disappointed in that man. He is a mere bucolic idiot. I shall
waste my talents intellectual and bibulous on him no longer. Our
excursion into the Bohemia of Melford is a failure, my little Asticot,
and the beer is confoundedly sour. I am glad I did not vagabondise in
Why? I asked.
To avoid an asylum for idiots I should have rushed into the
dissenting ministry. I might have expected mine host to be a dullard.
In this country the expected always happens, which paralyses the brain.
Now let us go home to lunch.
He paid the bill, and as we issued from the door of the inn we fell
into the arms of Joanna and Major Walters.
The latter regarded us superciliously, and Joanna catching his
glance flushed to the wavy hair over her forehead. The ordinary
greetings having been exchanged, she proudly and markedly drew Paragot
ahead, leaving me to follow with Major Walters. As he made no remark of
any kind during our little walk, I did not find him an exhilarating
I HAD worked till the last glimmer of daylight at the portrait,
which was now approaching completion.
That's the end of it for to-day, said I, laying my palette and
brushes aside, and regarding the picture.
Joanna rose from her chair by the fire where she had been sewing for
the last hour and stood by my side. The morning-room, which had a clear
north-east light through the French window leading into the garden, had
been assigned to me as a studio, and here, sometimes on a murky
afternoon, Joanna, who preferred the bright, chintz-covered place to
the gloomy drawing-room, honoured me with her company. Mrs. Rushworth
was asleep upstairs, and Paragot had gone for a solitary walk. We were
It pleased my lady to be flattering.
It is wonderful how a boy like you can do such workfor you are
a boy, Asticot, she said with one of her bright comrade-like smiles.
In a few years you will have the world at your feet imploring you to
paint its portrait. You will fulfil the promise, won't you?
What promise, Madame? I asked.
The promise of your life now. It is not everyone who does. You
won't allow outside things to send you away from it all.
She had slung the stole which she was embroidering for the vicar
across her shoulders, and holding the two ends looked at me wistfully.
I owe it to my master, Madame, said I, to work with all my
If only he had had a master in the old days! she sighed, He would
have been by now a famous man full of honours, with all the world can
give in his possession.
Hasn't he the best the world can give now that he has found you
again? said I, somewhat shyly.
Joanna gave a short laugh. You talk sometimes like one's
grandfather. I suppose that is because you became a student of
philosophy at a tender age. Yes, your master has found me again; but
after all, what is a woman? Just a speck of dust on top of the world.
She half seated herself on my painting stool, her back to the
Tell me, Asticot, is he at least happy?
Can you doubt it, Madame? I cried warmly.
I do so want him to be happy, Asticot. You see it was all through
me that he gave up his career and took to the strange life he has been
leading, and I feel doubly responsible for his future. Can you
Her blue eyes were very childish and earnest. For all my love of
Paragot, I suddenly felt something like pity for her, as for one who
had undertaken a responsibility that weighed too heavily on slender
shoulders. For the first time it struck me that Paragot and Joanna
might not be a perfectly matched couple. Intuition prompted me to
My master is utterly happy, but you must give him a little time to
accustom himself to the new order of things.
That's it, she said. Then there was a pause. You are such a wise
boy, she continued, that perhaps you may be able to do something for
me. I can't do it myselfand it's horrid of me to talk about itbut
do you think you might suggest to him that people of our class don't
visit the Black Boar? I don't mind it a bit; but other peoplemy
cousin Major Walters said something a day or two agoand it hurt. They
don't understand Gaston's Continental ways. It is natural for a man to
go to a café in France; but in England, things are so different.
I promised to convey to Paragot the tabu of the Black Boar, and then
I asked her which she preferred, England or France. She shivered, and a
gleam of frost returned to her eyes.
I never want to see France again. I was so unhappy there. I am
trying to persuade Mr. de Nérac to live in London. He can find as much
scope for his art there as in Paris, can't he?
Surely, said I.
And you'll come too, she said with the flash of gaiety that was
one of her charms. You'll have a beautiful studio near by and we'll
all be happy together.
She jumped off the painting stool and having bidden me light the
gas, resumed her task of embroidering the stole, by the fireside.
It's pretty, isn't it? she asked, holding it up for my inspection.
I agreed. She had considerable talent for art needlework.
Gaston doesn't appreciate it, she remarked, laughing. He
disapproves of clergymen.
They have scarcely been in his line, I answered apologetically.
They will have to be. Oh, you'll see. I'll make him a model
Englishman before very long.
I'm afraid you will find it rather difficult, Madame, said I.
Do you think I'm afraid of difficulties? Isn't everything
difficult? Is it easy for you to get everything to come out on that
canvas just as you want it? If you could dash it off in a minute it
wouldn't be worth doing. As you yourself said, I'll have to give Gaston
I seated myself on the fender-seat close by her chair, and for some
minutes watched the clever needle work its golden way through the white
silk. No one has ever had such dainty fingers and delicate wrists.
You mustn't think, because I have spoken about Mr. de Nérac, that I
am discontented. I wouldn't have him a bit altered integrally, for
there is no one like him living. And I'm utterly happy in the
fulfilment of the great romance of my life. Isn't it wonderful,
Asticot? Have you ever heard the like outside a story book? To meet
again after thirteen years and to find the oldthe old
Love, I whispered, as I saw that she suddenly blushed at the word.
As strong and true as ever. It is the inner things that matter,
Asticot. The outside ones are nothing. Dreadful things have happened to
each of us during those years, but they haven't clouded the serenity of
Ah, Madame, said I, with a smileit strikes me now that I was
slightly impertinentI am sure my master said that.
Yes, she admitted, raising wide innocent eyes. How did you
You yourself once detected echoes in me!
We both laughed.
That is what brought us together, Asticot. You seemed to regard him
as a god rather than as a manand I loved you for it.
She put out her left hand. I touched it with my lips.
That's a charming French way we haven't got in England. Andyou
did it very nicely, Asticot.
I almost scowled at the servant who entered with the announcement
that tea was waiting in the drawing-room.
* * * * *
I think of all human utterances I have heard fall from the lips of
those I love and honour, that formula of Paragot's echoed by Joanna was
the most pathetically vain. And they believed it. Indeed it was the
vital article of their faith. On its truth the whole fabric of their
It counted for nothing in Joanna's romantic eyes that the brilliant
eager youth, rich in the glory of his rising-sun, who had won her
heart long ago(she shewed me his photograph: alas poor Paragot!)was
now the tongue-tied spectre, the tale of whose ungentle past was
scarred upon his face: who stalked grotesquely comfortless in his
ill-fitting clothes: who with the art of dress had lost in the
boozing-kens of Europe the graces of social intercourse. It counted for
nothing that he was middle-aged, deserted forever by the elusive
wanton, inspiration, condemned (she knew it in her heart) to artistic
barrenness in perpetuity. It counted for nothing that her gods awakened
his contempt, and his gods her fear. It counted for nothing that they
had scarcely a single taste or thought in commonhalf-educated,
half-bred boy that I was, I vow I entered a sweeter chamber of intimacy
in my dear lady's heart than was open to Paragot.
You see, in spite of all the deadening influences, all the horror of
her married life, she had remained a child. When the Comte de Verneuil
had found her unforgiving in the matter of the false announcement of
Paragot's death, he had left her pretty much to herself, and had gone
after the strange goddesses, the ignoble Astaroths, beloved by a man of
his type. Month had followed month and year had followed year, and she
had not developed. His family, nationalist and devout, of the old
school, regarded him, rightly, as a renegade from their traditions, and
regarded Joanna, wrongly, as the English heretic who had seduced him
from the paths of orthodoxy. Their relations with Joanna were of the
most frigid. On the other hand, the society of Hebraic finance in which
the Comte de Verneuil found profit and entertainment was repugnant to
the delicately nurtured Englishwoman. She led a lonely existence. I
have so few friends in Paris, were almost her first words to me on the
day of our meeting outside the Hôtel Bristol. She went through the
world, her lips set in a smile, and her dear eyes frozen, and her heart
yearning for the sheltered English life with its rules for guidance and
its barriers of convention, its pleasant little routine of duties, and
its gentle communion of unemotional temperaments. Her eleven years
married life had been merely a suspension of existence. Her few
excursions into the unusual had been the scared adventures of a child.
Her romance was the romance of a child. Her gracious simplicity, and
her caressing adorableness which made my boy's love for her a
passionate worship which has lasted to this day, when we both are old
and only meet to shake heads together in palsied sympathy, were the
essential charms of a child. How should she understand the Paragot that
I knew? His soul still shone the stainless radiance that had dazzled
her young eyes. That was all that mattered. It was easy to convert the
outer man to convention. It was the simplest thing in the world to make
the chartered libertine of talk accept the Index Expurgatorius of
subjects mete for discussion: to regulate the innate vagabond by the
clock: to bring the pantheistic pagan of wide spiritual sympathies (for
Paragot was by no means an irreligious man) into the narrowest sphere
of Anglicanism. The colossal nature of her task did not occur to her;
and there again she exhibited a child's unreasoning confidence. Nor did
it occur to her to bid him throw off his undertaker's garb and gloom
and to adopt his free theories of life and conduct. At her mother's
knee she had learned the First Commandment, Thou shalt have none other
gods but me; and Joanna's god, though serving her sweet innocent soul
all the reasonable purposes of a deity, was Matthew Arnold's gigantic
clergyman in a white tie. In obedience to his maxims alone lay
salvation: Joanna's conviction was unshakable. As a matter of course
Paragot must walk the same path. There was not another one to walk.
Paragot accepted meekly my report of Joanna's tabu of the Black
Whatever Madame de Verneuil says is right. I was forgetting that
the refrain of the ballade of the immortal Villon 'Tout aux tavernes
et aux filles' which was that of my life for so many years is so no
longer, I wonder what the devil the refrain is now? Ha! he exclaimed
clapping his hand on my shoulder in his old violent way, I have it!
also Villon. Guess. Didn't I teach you all the ballades by rote as we
wandered through Savoy?
Yes, Master, said I; but I could only think of the one that came
into my Byronic little head on the occasion of my first meeting with
Joanna, Bien heureux qui rien n'y a, which in the present
circumstances was clearly not applicable. The romantic lover does not
base his conduct on the formula that blessed is he who has nothing to
do with women.
What is it, Master? I asked.
'En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir.'
I did not understand. In which faith do you wish to live and die?
He made a gesture of disappointment. He too was a child in many
You must go back to Paris to sharpen your wits, my son. I thought I
had trained you to catch allusion, one of the most delicate and
satisfying arts of life. Did I not preface my remarks by saying that
Madame de Verneuil was infallible? By which I mean that she is the
mouthpiece of all the sweeter kinds of angels. That is the faith, my
little Asticot, and he repeated to himself the rascal poet's refrain
to his most perfect poem: En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir.
But that, said I, wishing to prove that I had not forgotten my
scholarship, is a prayer to Our Lady made by Villon at the request of
You are as hopeless as mine host of the Black Boar, said my
master, and being wound up to talkit was during the after-dinner
interval before joining the ladieshe launched into a half hour's
disquisition on the philosophic value of allusiveness, addressing me as
if I had been his audience at the Lotus Club or a choice band of
disciples at the Café Delphine.
In the drawing-room I played my piquet with Mrs. Rushworth, while
Paragot sat with Joanna in a far corner. I could not help noticing how
little they spoke. Paragot's torrent of words had dried up, and the
talk seemed to flow in unsatisfying driblets. Why did he not entertain
her with his newly adopted romantical motto from Villon? Why did he not
express, in terms of which he was such a master, his fantastic
adoration? Why even did he not continue his disquisition on the
philosophic value of allusiveness? Anything, thought I, as I declared a
quinzième and fourteen kings, rather than this staccato exchange of
commonplaces which I was sure neither Joanna nor himself in the least
enjoyed. In fact, my dear Joanna yawned.
Presently Major Walters was announced. He had come, he explained
apologetically, on trustee business and required Joanna's signature to
an important document. She flew to him with a pretty air of delight,
drew him by the arm to an escritoire in a corner of the room, and
laughed girlishly as she inked her fingers and confessed her
powerlessness to comprehend the deed she was signing. Paragot, after a
very cold exchange of greetings with Major Walters, sat down by our
card-table, and watched the game with the funereal expression he always
wore when he desired to exhibit his entire correctness of demeanour. To
Mrs. Rushworth's placid remarks during the deals he made the politest
of monosyllabic replies. Meanwhile his dingy white tie, which he never
could arrange properly (he dressed for dinner each night without a
murmur) had worked up beyond his collar, and encircling his lean neck
like a pussy-cat's ribbon, gave him a peculiarly unheroic appearance.
The signing over, Joanna kept Major Walters by the escritoire and
chatted in a lively manner. As far as I could hearand I am afraid my
attention was sadly abstracted from my gamethey talked of the same
unintelligible things as the Tuesday afternoon guests, personalities,
local doings and what not. She ran to fetch the stole, over which
Paragot had not glowed with rapturous enthusiasm; apparently Major
Walters said just the thing concerning it her heart craved to hear; her
silvery voice rippled with pleasure. A while later he must have
returned to some business matter which he declared settled, for she put
her hand on his sleeve in her impulsive caressing way and her eyes
I don't know what I should do without you, Dennis. You bear all my
responsibilities on your strong shoulders. How can I thank you?
He bent down and said something in a low voice, at which she blushed
and laughed reprovingly. His remark did not offend her in the least.
She was enjoying herself. He drew himself up with a smile. It was then
that I noted particularly how well bred and clean-limbed he was; how
easily his clothes fitted. It seemed as impossible for Major Walters'
tie to work up round his neck as for his toes to protrude through his
boots. He gave one the impression of having followed cleanliness of
thought and person all his life. I began to have a sneaking admiration
for the man. I beheld in its openness that which I had often seen
pierce through Paragot's travesty of mountebankery or rags, but which
singularly enough seemed hidden beneath his conventional garbthe
inborn and incommunicable quality of the high-bred gentleman. I set to
dreaming of it and scheming out a portrait in which that essential
quality could be expressed; whereby I played the fool with my hand and
incurred the mild rebuke of my adversary, as she repiqued and capoted
me and triumphantly declared the game.
There was a short, general conversation. Then Major Walters,
declining the offer of whisky and soda in the dining-room, took his
leave. Paragot accompanied him to the front door. When he returned,
Mrs. Rushworth retired, as she always did after her game, and Joanna
instead of remaining with us for an hour, as usual, pleaded fatigue and
went to bed.
Master, said I, boyishly full of my new idea, do you think Major
Walters would sit to me? I don't mean as a commissionof course I
couldn't ask himbut for practice. I should like to paint him as a
knight in armour.
Why this lunatic notion? asked my master.
I explained. He looked at me for some time very seriously. There was
a touch of pain in his tired blue eyes.
You are right, my little Asticot, he said, and I was wrong. My
perception is growing blunt. I regarded our friend as having fallen out
of the War Office box of tin soldiers. Your vision has been keener.
Breed counts for much; but for it to have full value there must be the
life as well. All the same, the notion of asking Major Walters to
pose to you in a suit of armour is lunatic, and the sooner you finish
Mrs. Rushworth and get back to Janot's the better. There is also
Blanquette who must be bored to death in the Rue des Saladiers, with no
one but Narcisse to bear her company.
He put a cigarette into his mouth, but for some time did not light
it although he held a match ready to strike in his fingers. His
thoughts held him.
My son, he said at last, I would give the eyes out of my head to
have my violin.
Why, Master? I asked.
Because, said he, when one is afflicted with a divine despair,
there is nothing for it like fiddling it out of the system.
PARIS again; Janot's; the organized confusion of the studio; the
boisterous comradeship of my coevals; the Monday morning throng of
models in all stages of non-attire crowding the staircases; the noisy
café over the way; the Restaurant Didier where those of us, young men
and maidens, who had princely incomes dined marvellously for one franc
fifty, vin comprissuch wine!I writhe sympathetically at its
memory; the squabbles, the new romances, the new slang on the tip of
everyone's tongue; the studio in Menilmontant where the four of us
slaved at never-to-be-purchased masterpieces; the dear, full-blooded,
inspiring life again. Paris, too, which meant the Rue des Saladiers and
Blanquette and Narcisse, and the grace of dear familiar things.
It must not be counted to me for ingratitude that I was glad to be
back. I was still a boy, under twenty. My pockets bulged with the bank
notes into which I had converted Mrs. Rushworth's cheque, and I found
myself master of infinite delight. I presented Blanquette with a
tortoise-shell comb and Narcisse with a collar, and I electrified my
intimate and less fortunate friends by giving them a dinner in the
dismal entresol at Didier's which was superbly styled the Salle des
Banquets. Fanchette and one or two of her colleagues being of the
party, I fear we behaved in a disreputable manner. If Melford had
looked on it would have blushed to the top of its decorated spire. We
put the table aside and danced eccentric quadrilles. We shouted
roystering songs. When Cazalet tried to sing a solo we held him down
and gagged him with his own sandals. We flirted in corners. A goodly
portion of Rosaria, a Spanish model born and bred in the Quartier
Saint-Antoine, we washed in red wine. It was a memorable evening. The
next day Blanquette listened with great interest to my expurgated
account of the proceedings, and in her good unhumorous way prescribed
for my headache. When one is young, such a night is worth a headache. I
am unrepentant, even though I am old and the almond tree flourishes and
the grasshopper is trying to be a nuisance. I don't like your oldsters
who pretend to be ashamed of the follies of their youth. They are
humbugs all. There is no respectable elderly gentleman in the land who
does not inwardly chuckle over the chimes he has heard at midnight.
Though I always had Joanna's gracious personality at the back of my
mind, and the love of my good master as part of my spiritual equipment,
yet I must confess to concerning my thoughts very little with the
progress of their romance. I took it for granted as I took many things
in those unspeculative days. The actual whirl of Paris caught me and
left me little time for conjecture. I wrote once or twice to Joanna;
but my letters were egotistical outpourings; the mythological picture
at Menilmontant inspired sheets of excited verbiage. She replied in her
pretty sympathetic way, but gave me little news of Paragot. It was
hardly to be expected that she should write romantically, like a young
girl foolishly in love, gushing to a bosom friend. Paragot himself, who
disliked pen, ink, and paper, merely sent me the casual messages of
affection through Joanna. He took the view of the Duenna in Ruy Blas
as to the adequacy of the King's epistle to the Queen: Madame. It is
very windy and I have killed six wolves. Carlos. What more was
necessary? asked the Duenna. So did Paragot.
When I was with Blanquette I avoided the subject of the impending
marriage as much as possible. She looked forward with dull fatalism to
the day when another woman would take the master into her keeping and
her own occupation would be gone.
But, Blanquette, we shall go on living together just as we are
doing now, I cried in the generosity of youth.
And when a woman comes and takes you too?
I swore insane vows of celibacy; but she laughed at me in her
common-sense way, and uttered blunt truths concerning the weaknesses of
Besides, my little Asticot, she added, I love you very much; you
know that well; but you are not the Master.
Once I suggested the possibility of her marrying some one else.
There was a cheerful quincaillier at the corner of the street
who, to my knowledge, paid her assiduous attentions. He was evidently a
man of substance and refinement, for a zinc bath was prominently
displayed among his hardware. But Blanquette's love laughed at
tinsmiths. She who had lived on equal terms with the Master and myself
(I bowed my acknowledgment of the tribute) to marry a person without
education? Ah! mais non! Au grand nom! Merci! She was as
scornful as you please, and without rhyme or reason plucked a bunch of
Christmas roses from a jug on the table and threw them into the stove.
Poor quincaillier! There was nothing for it but to se fich' à
l'eauto chuck herself into the river. That was the end of most of
our conversations on the disastrous subject.
* * * * *
It was the end of a talk on one November evening, about three weeks
after I had returned to Paris. I had dined at home with Blanquette, and
was in the midst of a drawing which I blush to say I was doing for
Le Fou Rire, an unprincipled comic paper fortunately long since
defunct(fortunately? Tartuffe that I am. Many a welcome louis did I
get from it in those necessitous days)when she looked up from her
sewing and asked when the Master was coming back. The question led to
an answer, the answer to an observation, and the observation to the
discussion of the Subject.
There is no way out of it, mon pauvre Asticot, je vais me fich'
à l'eau, comme je l'ai dit.
In the meanwhile, my dear, said I, throwing down the crow-quill
pen and pushing my drawing away, if you remain in this pestilential
condition of morbidness, you will die without the necessity of drowning
yourself. Instead of making ourselves miserable, let us go and dance at
the Bal Jasmin. Veux-tu?
This evening? she asked, startled. She had never grown accustomed
to the suddenness of the artistic temperament.
Of course this evening. You don't suppose I would ask you to dance
next month so as to cure you of indigestion to-night.
But nothing is wrong with my stomach, mon cher, said the
It is indigestion of the heart, said I, after the manner of
Paragot, and dancing with me at the Bal Jasmin will be the best thing
in the world for you.
It would give you pleasure?
This was charmingly said. It implied that she would sacrifice her
feelings for my sake. But her eyes brightened and her cheeks flushed a
little. Women are rank hypocrites on occasion.
Ten minutes later Blanquette, wearing her black Sunday gown set off
by a blue silk scarf embroidered at the edges with a curious kind of
pink forget-me-not, her hair tidily coiled on top and fixed with my
tortoise-shell comb, announced that she was ready. We started. In those
days I did not drive to balls in luxurious hired vehicles. I walked,
pipe in mouth, correctly giving my arm to Blanquette. No doubt
everybody thought us lovers. It is odd how wrong everybody can be
The Bal Jasmin was situated in the Rue Mouffetard. It has long since
disappeared with many a haunt of my youth's revelry. The tide of frolic
has set northward, and Montmartre, which to us was but a geographical
term, now dazzles the world with its venal splendour. But the Moulin de
la Galette and the Bal Tabarin of the present day lack the gaiety of
the Bal Jasmin. It was not well frequented; it gathered round its
band-stand people with shocking reputations; the sight of a man in a
dress coat would have transfixed the assembly like some blood-curdling
ghost. The ladies would have huddled together in a circle round the
wearer and gazed at him open-mouthed. He would subsequently have had to
pay for the ball's liquid refreshment. The Bal Jasmin did not employ
meretricious ornament to attract custom. A low gallery containing
tables ran around the bare hall, the balustrade being of convenient
elbow height from the floor, so that the dancers during intervals of
rest could lounge and talk with the drinkers. In the middle was a
circular bandstand where greasy musicians fiddled with perspiring zeal.
At the doors a sergent de ville stood good-humouredly and nodded to the
ladies and gentlemen with whom he had a professional acquaintance.
Everybody came to dance. If good fortune, such as a watch or a
freshly subventioned student, fell into their mouths, they swallowed it
like honest, sensible souls; but they did not make reprehensible
adventure the main object of their evening. They danced the quadrilles,
not for payment and the delectation of foreigners as at the Jardin de
Paris, but for their own pleasure. A girl kicked off your hat out of
sheer kindness of heart and animal spirits; and if you waltzed with
her, she danced with her strange little soul throbbing in her feet.
There were, I say, the most dreadfully shocking people at the Bal
Jasmin; but they could teach the irreproachable a lesson in the art of
As I came with Blanquette, and danced only with Blanquette, and sat
with Blanquette over bock or syrup in the gallery, the unwritten
etiquette of the place caused us to be undisturbed. Like the rest of
the assembly we enjoyed ourselves. Dancing was Blanquette's one supreme
accomplishment. Old Père Paragot had taught her to play the zither
indifferently well, but he had made her dance divinely: and Blanquette,
I may here mention incidentally, had been my instructress in the art.
Seeing her thick-set, coarse figure, and holding your arm around her
solid waist as you waited for the bar, you would not have dreamed of
the fairy lightness it assumed the moment feet moved in time with the
music. If life had been a continuous waltz no partner of hers less
awkward than a rhinoceros could have avoided falling in love with her.
But waltzes ended all too soon and the thistle-down sylph of a woman
became my plain homely Blanquette, uninspiring of romance save in the
hardware bosom of the quincaillier at the corner of the Rue des
The bal was crowded. Gaunt ill-shaven men, each a parody of
one of the Seven Deadly Sins, capered grotesquely with daughters of
Rahab in cheap hats and feathers. Shop assistants and neat, bare-headed
work-girls, students picturesquely long-haired and floppily trousered
and cravated, and poorly clad models, a whole army of nondescripts,
heaven knows with what means of livelihood, all dancing, drinking,
eating, laughing, jesting, smoking, primitively love-making, moving,
shouting, a phantasmagoria of souls making merry beyond the pale of
reputable life; such were the frequenters of the Bal Jasmin. Gas flared
in two concentric circles of flame around the hall and around the
central bandstand. There was no ventilation. The bal sweltered
in perspiration. Hollow-voiced abjects hawked penny paper fans between
the dances, and the whole room was a-flutter.
Blanquette, who had forgotten tragedy for the time, sat with me at a
table by the balustrade and alternately sipped her syrup and water and
looked, full of interest, at the scene below, now and then clutching my
arm to direct my attention to startling personalities. The light in her
eyes and the colour in her coarse cheeks made her almost pretty. You
have never seen ugliness in a happy face. And Blanquette was happy.
Don't you want to go and dance with any other petite femme?
she asked generously. I will wait for you here.
I declined with equal magnanimity to leave her alone.
Suppose some rapscallion came up and asked you to dance?
I can take care of myself, mon petit Asticot, she laughed,
bracing her strong arms. And suppose I wanted to go off with him? They
are amusing sometimes, people like that. There is one. Regarde-moi
The type in question was a fox-faced young man, unwashed
and collarless, wearing the peaked cap of Paris villainy. He crossed
the hall accompanied by two of the brazenest hussies that ever emerged
from the shadow of the fortifications. As they passed the sergent de
ville they all cocked themselves up with an air of braggadocio.
He makes me shiver, said I. Blanquette shrugged her shoulders.
One must have all sorts of people in the world, as there are so
many things to make people different. It is only a chance that I have
not become like those girls. It's no one's fault.
'There, but by the grace of God, goes John Bunyan,' I quoted
reflectively. You are developing philosophy, Blanquette chérie,
and your gentle toleration of the infamous does you credit. But only
the master would get what wasn't infamous out of them.
The band struck up a waltz. Blanquette drank her syrup quickly and
Come and dance.
We descended and soon were swept along in the whirl of ragamuffin,
ill-conditioned couples dancing every step in the tradition of Paris.
Steering was no easy matter. After a while, we were hemmed in near the
side of the hall, and were just on the point of emerging from the crush
when the sound of a voice brought us to a dead stop which caused us to
be knocked about like a pair of footballs.
My good Monsieur Bubu le Vainqueur, you do me infinite honour, but
until I have devoured the proceeds of my last crime I lead a life of
We escaped from danger and reaching the side stood and looked at
each other in stupefaction. Blanquette was the first to see him. She
seized my arm and pointed.
It is he! Sainte Vierge, it is he!
It was he. He was sitting at a table a few yards off, and his
companions were the fox-faced youth and the two girls over whom
Blanquette had philosophised. He wore his silk hat. Brandy was in front
of him. He seemed to be on familiar terms with his friends. For a long
time we watched him, fascinated, not daring to accost him and yet
unwilling to edge away out of his sight and make our escape from the
ball. I saw that he was incredibly dirty. His beard of some days growth
gave him a peculiarly grim appearance. His hat had rolled in the mud
and was everything a silk hat ought not to be. His linen was black.
Never had the garb of respectability been so battered into the vesture
Suddenly he caught sight of us. He hesitated for a moment; then
waved us a bland, unashamed salutation. We went up the nearest steps to
the gallery and waited. After a polite leave-taking he bowed to his
companions, and reeled towards us. I knew by the familiar gait that he
had had many cognacs and absinthes during the day.
But what in the name of sanity was he doing here?
Mon dieu, mon dieu, qu'est-ce qu'il fait ici? asked
I shook my head. It was stupefying.
Eh bien, mes enfants, you have come to amuse yourselves, eh?
I too, in the company of my excellent friend Bubu le Vainqueur, whose
acquaintance together with that of his fair companions I would not
advise you to cultivate.
But Master, I gasped, what has happened?
I'll veil it, my son, said he, laying his hand on my shoulder, in
the decent obscurity of a learned language, 'Canis reversus ad suum
vomitum et sus lota in volutabro luti.'
Oh, mon Dieu, sighed Blanquette again, as if it were
something too appalling.
But why, Master? I entreated.
Why wallow? Why not? And now, my little Blanquette, we will all go
home and you shall make me some good coffee. Or do you want to stay
longer and dance with Asticot?
Oh, let us go away, Master, said Blanquette, casting a scared
glance at Bubu le Vainqueur, who was watching us with an interested
Allons, said Paragot, blandly.
The dance stopped, and the thirsty crowd surged to the gallery. We
threaded our way towards the door, and I thought with burning cheeks
that the eyes of the whole assembly were turned to my master's
mud-caked silk hat. It was a relief to escape from the noise and
gas-light of the bal, which had suddenly lost its glamour, into
the cool and quiet street. After we had walked a few yards in silence,
he hooked his arms in Blanquette's and mine, and broke into a loud
But it is astonishing, the age of you children! You might be fifty,
each of you, and I your little boy whom you had discovered in an act of
naughtiness and were bringing home! Really are you as displeased with
me à ce point-là? C'est épatant! But laugh, my little
Blanquette, are you not glad to see me?
But yes, Master, said Blanquette. It is like a dream.
And you, Asticot of my heart?
I find it a dream too. I can't understand. When did you leave
About five days ago. I would tell you the day of the week, if I had
the habit of exactness.
And Madame de Verneuil?
Is very well, thank you.
After this rebuff I asked no more questions. I remarked that the
weather was still cold. Paragot laughed again.
He has turned into a nice little bourgeois, hasn't he, Blanquette?
He knows how to make polite conversation. He is tidy in his habits in
the Rue des Saladiers, eh? He does not spit on the floor or spill
absinthe over the counterpane. Ah! je suis un vieux salaud, hein?
Don't say no. And Narcisse?
It is he who will be contented to see you, cried Blanquette. And
so are we all. Ah oui, en effet, je suis contente! She heaved a
great sigh as though she had awakened from the night-mare of seeing
herself a dripping corpse in the Morgue. It is no longer the same
thing when you are not in the house. Truly I am happy, Master. You
There was a little throb in her voice which Paragot seemed to
notice, for as he bent down to her, his grip of my arm relaxed, and, I
suppose, his grip of hers tightened.
It gives you such pleasure that I come back, my little Blanquette?
he said tenderly.
I craned my head forward and saw her raise her faithful eyes to his
and smile, as she pronounced her eternal Oui, Maître.
It is only Asticot who does not welcome the prodigal father.
I protested. He laughed away my protestations. Then suddenly he
stopped and drew a long breath, and gazed at the tall houses whose
lines cut the frosty sky into a straight strip.
Ah! how good it smells. How good it is to be in Paris again!
The door of a marchand de vin swung open just by our noses to
give exit to a reveller, and the hot poisoned air streamed forth.
And how good it is, the smell of alcohols. I could kiss the honest
sot who has just reeled out and is skating across the road. A bas
He did not carry out his unpleasing desire, but when we reached the
salon in the Rue des Saladiers, and we had lit the lamp, he kissed
Blanquette on both cheeks, still crying out how good it was to be back.
Narcisse, mad with delight, capered about him and barked his rapture.
He did not in the least mind a master lapsed from grace.
Paragot threw himself on a chair, his hat still on his head. Oh, how
dirty, dilapidated and unshaven he was! I felt too miserable with
apprehension to emulate Narcisse's enthusiasm. It was cold. I opened
the door of the stove to let the glowing heat come out into the room.
Blanquette went to the kitchen to prepare the coffee.
Suddenly Paragot leaped to his feet, cast his silk hat on the floor
and stamped it into a pancake. Then he thrust it into the stove and
shut the door.
Voilà! he cried.
Before I could interfere he had taken off his frock-coat and holding
one skirt in his hands and securing the other with his foot had ripped
it from waist to neck. He was going to burn this also, when I stopped
Laisse-moi! said he impatiently.
It will make such a horrid smell, Master, said I.
He threw the garment across the room with a laugh.
It is true. He stretched himself and waved his arms. Ah, now I am
better. Now I am Paragot. Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot, again. Now I am
free from the forms and symbols. Yes, my son. That hat has been to me
Luke's iron crown. That coat has been the peine forte et dure
crushing my infinite soul into my liver. He tore off his black tie and
hurled it away from him. This has been strangling every noble
inspiration. I have been swathed in mummy bands of convention. I have
been dead. I have come to life. My lungs are full. My soul regains its
limitless horizons. My swollen tongue is cool, and nom de Dieu de
nom de Dieu, I can talk again!
He walked up and down the little salon vociferating his freedom, and
kicking the remains of the frock-coat before him. With one of his
sudden impulses he picked it up and threw it out of a quickly opened
The sight of it offended me, he explained.
Master, said I, where are your other things?
What other things?
Your luggageyour great coatyour umbrella.
Why, at Melford, said he with an air of surprise. Where else
should they be?
I had thought that no action of Paragot could astonish me. I was
wrong. I stared at him as stupefied as ever.
Usually people travel with their luggage, said I, foolishly.
They are usual people, my son. I am not one of them. It came to a
point when I must either expire or go. I decided not to expire. These
things are done all in a flash. I was walking in the garden. It was
last Sunday afternoonI remember now: a sodden November day. Imagine a
sodden November Sunday afternoon English country-town garden. Joanna
was at a children's service. Ah, mon Dieu! The desolation of
that Sunday afternoon! The death, my son, that was in the air!
Ah! I choked, I struggled. The garden-wall, the leaden sky closed in
upon me. I walked out. I came back to Paris.
Just like that? I murmured.
Just like that, said he. You may have noticed, my son, that I am
a man of swift decisions and prompt action. I walked to the Railway
Station. A providential London train was expected in five minutes. I
took it. Voilà.
Did you stay long in London? I asked by way of saying something;
for he began to pace up and down the room.
Did I see anything worth seeing at the theatres? And did I have a
good crossing? My little Asticot, I perceive you have become an adept
at conventional conversation. If you can't say something original I
shall go back to Bubu le Vainqueur, whose society for the last three
days has afforded me infinite delectation. Although his views of life
may be what Melford would call depraved, at any rate they are
first-hand. He does not waste his time in futile politeness. Suddenly
he paused, and seized me by the shoulder and shook me, as he had often
done before. Creep out of that shell of gentility, you little
hermit-crab, he cried, and tell me how you would like to live in
Melford for the rest of your natural life.
I shouldn't like it at all, said I.
Then, how do you expect me to have liked it?
Blanquette entered with the great white coffee jug and some thick
cups and set the tray on the oilskin-covered table. Seeing Paragot in
his grubby shirt-sleeves, she looked around, with her housewifely
instinct of tidiness, for the discarded garments.
Gone, he shouted, waving his arms. Cast into the flames, and rent
in twain, and scattered to the winds of Heaven.
He laughed, seeing that she did not understand, and poured out a
jorum of coffee.
The farcical comedy is over, Blanquette, said he gently, I'm a
Monsieur no longer, do you see? We are going to live just as we did
before you went away in the summer, and I am not going to be married. I
am going to live with my little Blanquette for ever and ever in
sæculo sæculorum, amen.
She turned as white as the coffee jug. I thought she was about to
faint and caught her in my arms. She did not faint, but burying her
head against my shoulder burst into a passion of tears.
What the devil's the matter? asked Paragot. Are you sorry I'm not
going to be married?
Mais non, mais non! Blanquette sobbed out vehemently.
I think she's rather glad, Master, said I.
He put down his coffee-cup, and laid his hands on her as if to draw
her comfortingly away from me.
My dear child he began.
But she shrank back. Ah non, laissez-moi, she cried, and
bolted from the room.
Paragot looked at me inquiringly, and shrugged his shoulders.
The eternal feminine, I suppose. Blanquette like the rest of them.
It's odd you haven't noticed it before, Master.
I lit a cigarette.
The eternal feminine in Blanquette, I answered.
What the deuce do you mean?
She was jealous even of my friendship with Madame de Verneuil,
said I diplomatically, realising that I was on the point of betraying
It never struck me that she was jealous, he remarked simply.
He took his coffee-cup to the rickety sofa and sat down with the
sigh of a tired man. I took mine to the chair by the stove, and we
drank silently. I have never felt so hopelessly miserable in my life as
I did that night. I was old enough, or perhaps rather I had gathered
experience enough, to feel a shock of disgust at Paragot's return in
volutabro luti. In what sordid den had he found shelter these last
days of reaction? I shuddered, and loving him I hated myself for
shuddering. Yet I understood. He was a man of extremes. Having fled
from the intolerable virtues of Melford, with the nostalgia of the
vagabond life devouring him like a flame, he could not have been
expected to return tamely to the Rue des Saladiers. He had plunged head
foremost into the depths. But Bubu le Vainqueur! The Latin Quarter was
not exactly a Sunday School; very probably it flirted with Bubu's lady
companions; but between Bubu and itself it raised an impassable
The idyll too was over. He had left my dear lady Joanna without drum
or trumpet. As my destiny hung with his, I should never behold her
adored face again. All the graciousness seemed suddenly to be swept out
of my life. I pictured her forsaken, heartbroken, for the second time,
weeping bitterly over this repetition of history, and including me in
her indictment of my master. At nineteen we are all presumptuous
egotists: if I mixed pity for myself with sorrow for Joanna and dismay
for my master, I am not too greatly to be blamed. The best emotions of
older, wiser and better men than I are often blends of queer elements.
The romance was dead. There was no more Joanna. I broke down and
shed tears into my coffee-cup.
I SPENT the night on the sofa, as the only bed in the establishment
belonged to Paragot. The next morning I took my scanty belongings to my
old attic, which fortunately happened to be unlet, and left my master
in undisturbed possession of his apartment. In the evening, calling to
make polite inquiries as to his health, I found him still in bed
looking grimier and bristlier than the night before.
My son, said he, the bread of liberty is sweet, but when you are
starving you should not over-eat yourself. An old French writer says:
'Après le plaisir vient la peine,
Après la peine la vertu.'
I've had the pain that follows pleasure, but whether I shall attain
the consequential virtue I don't know. For the present, however, I am
condemned to it against my will.
How so? I asked.
I have a great desire to rise and seek the Nepenthe of the Café
Delphine, but a whimsical fate keeps me coatless and hatless in a
virtuous house. I am also comparatively shirtless, which does not so
I'm afraid my things wouldn't fit you, Master, said I sitting on
the edge of the bed.
The only coat which the good Blanquette has preserved is the
pearl-buttoned velveteen jacket in which I fiddled away so many happy
Why not wear it, until your bag arrives from Melford?
In Arcadian villages, he replied, it commanded respect. In the
Café Delphine I'm afraid it would only excite derision.
Presently a strong odour of onions gave promise of an approaching
meal, and a little while afterwards Blanquette entered with the
announcement that soup was on the table. Paragot rose, donned trousers
and slippers and went forth into the salon to dine.
Simplicity is one of the canons of high art. Life is an art, as I
have endeavoured to teach you. Therefore in life we should aim at
simplicity. To complicate existence into the intricacy of a
steam-engine with white ties and red socks is an offence against art of
which I will never again be guilty. It is also more comfortable to eat
soup with your elbows on the table. N'est-ce pas, Blanquette?
Bien sûr, she replied, bending over her bowl, where else
could one put them?
This pleased Paragot, who continued to talk in high good humour
during the rest of the meal. Afterwards, he filled a new porcelain
pipe, which Blanquette had purchased, and smoked contentedly the rest
of the evening. Blanquette sat dutifully on a straight-backed chair,
her hands in her lap, listening as she had so often done before to our
inspiring conversation, and adding her word whenever it entered the
area of her comprehension. If we had lectured each other alternately on
the Integral Calculus, Blanquette would have given us her rapt and
happy attention. This evening she would not have minded our talking
English; the mere sound of the Master's voice was sweet: sweeter than
ever, now that the other woman had been planted there (she thought of
it with a fierce joy), and the master had come back to her for ever and
ever, in sæculo sæculorum, amen. Like many peasant women of
strong nature, she had the terrible passion of possession. In her soul
she would rather have had the most degraded of Paragots in her arms, as
her own unalienable property, than have seen him honourable and
prosperous in the arms of another. Had she been of a nervous and
emotional temperament there might have been tragedy in the Rue des
Saladiers, and the newspapers of Paris might have chronicled yet
another crime passionnel and the appearance of Blanquette before
a weeping jury. But the days of tragedy were over. Paragot thundered
invectives against insincerity in Art (we were discussing my famous
mythological picture still on the easel at Menilmontant) and Blanquette
beamed approval. She remarked, referring to my picture, that she didn't
like so many unclad ladies. It was not decent. Besides, if they lay in
the grass like that, they would catch cold.
And they have no pocket-handkerchiefs to blow their noses, cried
Whereat Blanquette's sense of humour being tickled she screamed with
laughter. Narcisse sprang from sleep and barked, and there reigned
great happiness, in which even I, still reproachful of my master, had
What a thing it is to be at home! observed Paragot.
I had never heard him utter so domestic a sentiment.
'After pleasure follows pain and after pain comes virtue.' This is
virtue with a vengeance, I reflected cynically.
Bien sûr, was Blanquette's inevitable response.
When she bade us good night, Paragot drew her down and kissed her
cheek, which was an unprecedented mark of domesticity. Blanquette
turned brick-red, and I suppose her foolish heart beat wildly. I have
known my own heart to beat wildly for far less, and I am not a woman;
but I have been in love.
It is because you belong to me, my little Blanquette, and I am
among mine own people. We understand one another, don't we? Et tout
comprendre c'est tout pardonner.
When she had gone he smoked reflectively for a few moments.
I never realised till now, said he, the sense of stability and
comfort that Blanquette affords me. She is unchangeable. God has given
her a sense whereby she has pierced to the innermost thing that is I,
and externals don't matter. She has got nearer the true Paragot than
you, my son, although I know you love me.
What is the true Paragot, Master? I asked.
There are only two that know itBlanquette and the bon Dieu. I don't.
I only know, said I, that I owe my life to you and that I love
you more than any one else in the world.
Even more than Mme. de Verneuil? he asked with a smile.
I blushed. She is different, said I.
Quite different, he assented, after a long pause. My son, he
added, it is right that you should know why the end came. One
generally keeps these things to oneselfbut I see you are blaming me,
and a barrier may grow up between us which we should both regret. You
think I have treated your dear lady most cruelly?
I can't judge you, Master, said I, terribly embarrassed.
But you do, said he.
Paragot was in one of his rare gentle moods. He spoke softly,
without a trace of reproach or irony. He spoke, too, lying pipe in
mouth on the old rep sofa, instead of walking about the room. He told
me his story. Need I repeat it?
They had escaped a life-long misery, but on the other hand they had
lost a life-long dream. She was still in his eyes all that is beautiful
and exquisite in woman; but she was not the woman that Berzélius
Nibbidard Paragot could love. The twain had been romantic, walking in
the Valley of Illusion, wilfully blinding their eyes to the irony of
Things Real. Love had flown far from them during the silent years and
they had mistaken the afterglow of his wings for the living radiance.
They had begun to realise the desolate truth. They read it in each
other's eyes. She had been too loyal to speak. She would have married
him, hoping as a woman hopes, against hope. Paragot, whose soul
revolted from pretence, preferring real mire to sham down, fled from
the piteous tragedy.
He might have retired more conventionally. He might have had a
dismal explanatory interview with Joanna, and ordered a fly to convey
himself and his luggage to the Railway Station the next morning.
Perhaps if Joanna had found him in the November Sunday afternoon garden
this might have occurred. But Joanna did not find him. His temperament
found him instead; and when you have a temperament like Paragot's, it
plays the very deuce with convention. It drew him out of the garden,
across the Channel and into the society of Bubu le Vainqueur. But, all
the same, in the essential act of leaving Melford, Paragot behaved like
the man of fine honour I shall always maintain him to be.
How many men of speckless reputation, though feeling the pinch of
poverty, would not have married Joanna for the great wealth her husband
left behind? Answer me that.
I know that Joanna wept bitterly over her lost romance. But she has
owned to me that the words written on a scrap of paper by Paragot and
posted from London were tragically true:
My dear. It is only the shadows of our past selves that love. You
and I are strangers to each other. To continue this sweet pretence of
love is a mockery of the Holiest. God bless you. Gaston.
If you love a Dream Woman, said Paragot, let her stay the divine
Woman of the Dream. To awaken and clasp flesh and blood, no matter how
delicately tender, and find that love has sped at the dawn is a misery
too deep for tears.
And Paragot, lying unshaven, unwashed, in grimy shirt and trousers,
smoked silently and stared into a future in which the dear sweet Dream
Woman with the little feet so adored would never, never again have a
If I had a coat to my back, said he, after nearly half an hour's
silence, I verily believe I would go to the Pont Neuf and talk to
* * * * *
Le Fou Rire had given me a commission for a front page in
colours; and I was deep in the disreputable task on the following
evening when Paragot appeared in my attic. He wore a jacket, his bag
having arrived from Melford.
My soul hungers, said he, for the Café Delphine, and my throat
thirsts for sociable alcohol. If you can cease the prostitution of your
art to a salacious public for an hour or two, I shall be very glad of
I think it's rather good, said I complacently, regarding the
drawing with head bent sideways. It's an old theme, but it's up to
date. At Janot's they would say it was palpitating with modernity.
That's what makes it vile, said Paragot.
We were thrown into immediate argument. One of the flying art
notions of the hour was to revive the old subjects which contained the
eternal essentials of life and present them in palpitatingly modern
form. I eloquently developed my thesis. We were sick to death, for
instance, of the quasi-scriptural Prodigal Son, sitting half-naked in a
desert beside a swine trough. Was it not more palpitating to set the
prodigal in modern Paris?
Your moderns can't palpitate with dignity, my son, replied
Paragot. Take Susannah and the Elders. Classically treated the subject
might yet produce one of the greatest pictures of all time. Translate
it into the grocer's wife and the two churchwardens and you cannot
escape from bestial vulgarity.
Conscious of the wide horizon of extreme youth, I sighed at my
master's narrowness. He was hopelessly behind the times. I dropped the
argument and hunted for my cap.
We found the Café Delphine fairly full. Madame Boin, whom the past
few months had provided with a few more rolls of fat round her neck,
gave a little gasp as she caught sight of Paragot, and held out her
hand over the counter.
Is it really you, Monsieur Paragot? One sees you no more. How is
that? But it is charming. Ah? You have been en voyage? In
England? On dit que c'est beau là-bas. And where will you sit?
Your place is taken. It is Monsieur Papillard, the poet, who has sat
there for a month. We will find another table. There is one that is
She pointed to a draughty, unconsidered table by the door. Paragot
looked at it, then at Madame Boin and then at his own private and
particular table usurped by Monsieur Papillard and his associates, and
swore a stupefied oath of considerable complication. A weird,
pug-nosed, pig-eyed, creature with a goatee beard scarce masking a
receding chin, sat in the sacred seat against the wall. His hat and
cloak were hung on Paragot's peg. He was reading a poem to half a dozen
youths who seemed all to be drinking mazagrans, or coffee in
long glasses. They combined an air of intellectual intensity with one
of lyrical enthusiasm, like little owls pretending to be larks. Not one
of the old set was there to smile a welcome.
We stood by the counter listening to the poem. When Monsieur
Papillard had ended, the youths broke into applause.
Un chef d'oeuvre, cher maître.
They called the pug-nosed creature, cher maître!
It is demented idiocy, murmured my astounded master.
At that moment entered Félicien Garbure, a down-at-heel elderly man,
who had been wont to sit at Paragot's table. He was one of those
parasitic personages not unknown in the Quartier, who contrived
to attach themselves to the special circle of a café, and to drink as
much as possible at other people's expense. His education and
intelligence would have disgraced a Paris cabman, but an ironical
Providence had invested him with an air of wisdom which gave to his
flattery the value of profound criticism.
This sycophant greeted us with effusion. Where had we been? Why had
the delightful band been dispersed? Did we know Monsieur Papillard, the
great poet? Before we could reply he approached the chair.
Cher maître, permit me to present to you my friends Monsieur
Berzélius Paragot and Monsieur Asticot.
Enchanté, Messieurs, said the great poet urbanely.
We likewise avowed our enchantment, and Paragot swore beneath his
breath. The waiterno longer Hercule, who had been dismissed for petty
thievery some time beforebut a new waiter who did not know
Paragotset us chairs at the end of the table far away from the great
man. We ordered drinks. Paragot emptied his glass in an absent-minded
manner, still under the shock of his downfall. But a few short months
ago he had ruled in this place as king. Now he was patronizingly
presented to the snub-nosed, idiot usurper by Félicien Garbure. His
friend, Berzélius Paragot! Nom de Dieu! And he was assigned a
humble place below the salt. Verily the world was upside down.
Give me another grog, said Paragot, a double one.
The poet read another poem. It was something about topazes and
serpents and the twilight and the pink palms of a negress. More I could
not gather. The company hailed it as another masterpiece. Félicien
Garbure called it a supreme effort of genius. A young man beside
Paragot vaunted its witchery of suggestion.
It is absolute nonsense, cried my master.
But it is symbolism, Monsieur, replied the young man in a tone of
What does it mean?
The young manhe was very kindsmiled and shrugged his shoulders
What in common speech is the meaning of one of Bach's fugues or
Claude Monet's effects of sunlight? One cannot say. They appeal direct
to the soul. So does a subtle harmony of words, using words as notes of
music, or pigments, what you will, arranged by the magic of a master.
These things are transcendental, Monsieur.
Saperlipopette! breathed Paragot. My little Asticot, he
whispered to me, have I really come to this, to sit at the feet of an
acting pro-sub-vice-deputy infant Gamaliel and be taught the elements
of symbolic poetry?
But Master, said I, somewhat captivated by the balderdash, there
is, after all, colour in words. Don't you remember how delighted you
were with the name of a little town we passed through on our way to
OrléansRomorantin? You were haunted by it and said it was like the
purple note of an organ.
Which shews you my son that I was aware of the jargon of symbolism
before these goslings were hatched, he replied.
He drained his tumbler, called the waiter and paid the reckoning.
Let us go to Père Louviot's in the Halles where we can meet some
real men and women.
We went, and the Café Delphine knew Paragot no more.
* * * * *
After this he took to frequenting indiscriminately the various cafés
of the neighbourhood, wandering from one to the other like a lost soul
seeking a habitation. Now and again he hit upon fragments of the old
band, who had migrated from the Café Delphine when it became the home
of the symbolic poets. He tried in vain to collect the fragments
together in a new hostelry. But the cohesive force had gone. These
queer circles of the Latin Quarter are organisms of spontaneous growth.
You cannot create them artificially or re-create them when once they
are disintegrated. The twos and threes of students received him kindly
and listened to his talk; but his authority was gone. Once or twice
when I accompanied him I fancied that he had lost also the peculiar
magic of his vehement utterances. Cazalet also noticed a change.
What is the matter with Paragot? He no longer talks. He preaches.
Ça ennuie à la fin.
Paragot a bore! It was unimaginable.
Was he paying the penalty of his past respectability? Had Melford
repressed his noble rage and frozen the genial current of his soul? It
is not unlikely. He often found himself condemned to solitary toping
over a stained newspaper, one of the most ungleeful joys known to man.
Sometimes he played dominoes with Félicien Garbure, now icily received
by the symbolists on account of an unpaid score. Whether desperation
drove him occasionally to Bubu le Vainqueur and his friends I do not
know. He was not really proud of his acquaintance with Bubu. Once he
whimsically remarked that as he was half way between Gaston de Nérac
and Berzélius Paragot, and therefore neither fish nor fowl, he could
not find an appropriate hole in Paris. But when his hair and his beard
and his finger nails had attained their old luxuriance of growth, and
he was in every way Paragot again, the desired haven remained still
unfindable. There were taverns without number and drink in oceans, and
the life of Paris surged up and down the Boulevards as stimulating as
ever: but the heart of Paragot cried out for something different. He
took the old violin from its dirty case and spent hours in the Rue des
Saladiers trying to fiddle the divine despair out of his system.
Sometimes he would call upon Blanquette to accompany him on her almost
One day he was with me at the Café opposite Janot's, when two or
three of the studio came in and sat at our table. There was the usual
eager talk. The subject, the new impressionism.
But to understand it, you must be in the movement, cried Fougère,
not dreaming of discourtesy.
But Paragot took the saying to heart.
I see it now, said he afterwards. I am no longer in the movement.
You young men have passed me by. I am left stranded. You may ask why I
don't seek the company of my own contemporaries? Who are they that know
me, save worthless rags like Félicien Garbure? Stranded, my son. I have
had my day.
After that he refused to talk at such social gatherings as chance
afforded, and moodily listened, while he consumed profitless alcohol.
Then he began to frequent the low-life cafés of the Halles. When he had
nearly poisoned himself with vile absinthe and sickened himself with
the conversation of fishwives, he sent for me in despair.
I found him half-dressed walking up and down the salon. He looked
I am going to leave Paris to-day, he began, as soon as I entered.
It is a city of Dead Sea apples. It has no place for me, save the
sewer. I don't like the sewer. I am going away. I shall never come back
to Paris again.
But where are you going, Master? I asked in some surprise.
He did not know. He would pack his bundle and flee like Christian
from the accursed city. Like Christian he would go on a Pilgrim's
Progress. He would seek sweet pure things. He would go forth and work
in the fields. The old life had come to an end. The sow had been
mistaken. It could not return to its wallowing in the mire. Wallowing
was disgustful. Was ever man in such a position? The vagabond life had
made the conventions of civilisation impossible. The contact with
convention and clean English ways had killed his zest for the old order
of which only the mud remained. There was nothing for it but to leave
He poured out his heart to me in a torrent of excited words, here
and there none too coherent. He must work. He had lost the great art by
which he was to cover Europe with palaces. That was no longer.
My God! said he stopping short. The true knowledge of it has only
come to me lately. I was living in a Fool's Paradise. I could never
have designed a building. I should have lived on her bounty. Thank God
I was saved the shame of it.
He went on. Again he repeated his intention of leaving Paris. I must
look after Blanquette for the present. He must go and dree his weird
And yet, my little Asticot, it is the dreadful loneliness that
frightens me. Once I had a dream. It sufficed me. But now my soul is
empty. A man needs a woman in his life, even a Dream Woman. But for me,
ni-ni, c'est fini. There is not a woman in the wide world who would
look at me now.
Master, said I, if you are going to settle down in the country,
why don't you marry Blanquette?
Marry Blanquette! Marry
He regarded me in simple, undisguised amazement which took his
breath away. He passed his hand through his hair and sat on the nearest
Nom de Dieu! said he, I never thought of it!
Then he leaped up and caught me in the old way by the shoulders, and
cried in French, as he did in moments of great excitement:
But it's colossal, that idea! It is the solution of everything. And
I never thought of it though it has been staring me in the face. Why I
love her, our little Blanquette. I have loved her all the time without
knowing it as the good Monsieur Jourdain spoke prose. Sacré nom d'un
petit bonhomme! Why didn't you tell me before, confounded little
animal that you are?
He swung me with a laugh, to the other side of the room, and waved
his arms grotesquely, as he continued his dithyrambic eulogy of the
colossal idea. I have never seen two minutes produce a greater change
in a human countenance. Ten years fell from it. He looked even younger
than when he had broken his fiddle over Mr. Pogson's head and received
the inspiration of our vagabondage. His blue eyes cleared, and in them
shone the miraculous light of laughter.
But it was written, my son Asticot. It was preordained. She is the
one woman in the world to whom I need not pretend to be other than I
am. She is real, nom de Dieu! What she says is Blanquette, what
she does is Blanquette, and her sayings and doings would grace the
greatest Queen in Christendom. But, have you thought of it? I have come
indeed to the end of my journey. I started out to find Truth, the
Reality of Things. I have found it. I have found it, my son. It is a
woman, strong and steadfast, who looks into your eyes; who can help a
man to accomplish his destiny. And the destiny of man is to work, and
to beget strong children. And his reward is to have the light in the
wife's eyes and the welcome of a child's voice as he crosses the
threshold of his house. And it cleanses a man. But Blanquette he
smote his forehead, and burst into excited laughter. Why did it not
enter into this idiot head before?
The laughter ceased all of a sudden, and at least three years
returned to his face.
It takes two parties to make a marriage, said he in a chastened
tone. Blanquette is young. I am not. She may be thinking of a future
quite different. It is all very well to say I will marry Blanquette,
but will Blanquette marry me?
Master, said I, feeling a person of elderly experience, it was
entirely on your account that Blanquette refused the quincaillier
at the corner of the street.
I had learned from her the day before that the superior hardware
merchant had recently made her a ceremonious offer of marriage.
A sense of duty, perhaps, said Paragot.
I laughed at his seriousness.
But, Master, she has been eating her heart out for you since the
wedding at Chambéry.
Asticot, said he, planting himself in front of me, are you
jesting or speaking what you know to be the truth?
The absolute truth.
And you never told me? You knew that a real woman loved me, and you
let me chase a will-o'-the-wisp with gloves and an umbrella? Truly a
man's foes are of his own household.
But, Master I began.
He laughed at the sight of my dejected face.
No, you were loyal, my son. The man who gives away a woman's
confidence, even when she avows the poisoning of her husband and the
strangulation of her babes, is a transpontine villain.
He took up his porcelain pipe and filled it from the blue packet of
caporal that lay on the table with the oilskin cover. He struck a match
and was about to apply it to the bowl, when one of his sudden ideas
caused him to blow out the match and lay down the pipe. Then with his
old lightning swiftness he strode to the door and flung it open.
Blanquette! Blanquette! he cried.
Oui, maître, came from the kitchen, and in a moment
Blanquette entered the room.
He took her by the hand and led her to the centre, while she
regarded him somewhat mystified. With his heels together, he made her a
Blanquette, said he, in the presence of Asticot as witness I ask
you to do me the honour to become my wife.
It was magnificent; it was what Paragot would have called vieille
école; but it was not tactful. It was half an hour before
Blanquette fully grasped the situation.
JOANNA married Major Walters, as soon as the conventionalities would
She wrote then, for the first time, to Paragot.
I bear you no malice, my dear Gaston, and I am sure you bear me
none. Your breaking off of our engagement was the only way out of a
fantastic situation. You might have broken it less abruptly; but you
were always sudden. If I may believe Asticot, your own marriage was a
lightning incident. I can laugh now, and so I suppose can your wife;
but believe me this sort of thing does leave a woman rather breathless.
Wish me happiness, as I wish you. If ever we meet it will be as
Could woman have spoken more sweetly?
My dear Joanna, replied Paragot, I do wish you all the happiness
in the world. You can't fail to have it. You have a real husband as I
have a real wife. Let us thank heaven we have escaped from the moon
vapour of the Ideal, in which we poor humans are apt to lose our way
and stray God knows whither. I am sending you a real marriage gift.
My dear Asticot, wrote Joanna from an hotel in Florence, what do
you think your delightful but absurd master has sent me as a wedding
present? It arrived here this morning, to the consternation of the
whole hotel. A crate containing six live ducks. The label stated that
they were real ducks fed by his own hand.
But what am I to do with six live ducks on a wedding journey, my
dear Asticot? I can't sell them. I hate the idea of eating themand
even if I didn't, Major Walters and I can't eat six. And I can't put
blue ribbons round their necks, and carry them about with me on my
travels as pets. Can't you see me walking over the Ponte Vecchio
followed by them as by a string of poodles? And they are so voracious.
The hotel people are already charging them full pension terms. Oh,
dear! Do tell me what I am to do with these dreadful fowl!
My dearest Lady, I answered. Offer the ducks like the Dunmow
flitch of bacon to the most happily married couple in Florence.
Whether Joanna acted on my brilliant suggestion I cannot say. A
little while ago I enquired after their ultimate destiny; but Joanna
had forgotten. I believe Major Walters and herself fled from them
Paragot on his label stated that he had fed the ducks with his own
hand. This was practically true; indeed, in the case of those who
declined to nourish themselves to the requisite degree of fatness, it
was literally true. I have beheld him since perform the astounding
operation, a sight Dis hominibusque; but not in the Rue des
Saladiers. It was on his own farm, the farm near Chartres, which he
bought, in his bewildering fashion, as soon as lawyers could prepare
the necessary documents. He took train the day after his proposal of
marriage to Blanquette, and returned, I remember, somewhat crestfallen,
because he could not conclude the purchase then and there.
My dear sir, said the lawyer whom he consulted, you can't buy
landed property as you can a pound of sugar over a counter.
Why not? asked Paragot.
Because, said the lawyer, the law of France mercifully concedes
to men of my profession the right of gaining a livelihood.
I see that you are a real lawyer, said Paragot, pleased by the
irony, and it is an amiable Providence that has guided my steps to
But Paragot was married, and the little appartement in the
Rue des Saladiers passed into alien hands, and the newly wedded pair
settled down on the farm, long before all the legal formalities of
purchase were accomplished. It takes my breath away, even now, to think
of the hurry of those days. He decided human destinies in the fraction
of a second.
My son, said he, when I have paid for this farm, I shall have
very little indeed of the capital, on the interest of which we have
been living. I am now a married man, with the responsibilities of a
wife and a future family. I have put £200 to your credit at the Crédit
Lyonnais and that is all your fortune. If art can't support you, when
you have spent it, you will have to come to La Haye (the farm) and feed
pigs. You'll be richer if you paint them; the piggier they are, and the
heavier the gold watch chains across their bellies, the richer you will
be; but you'll be happier if you feed them. Crede experturo.
I went to bed that night swearing a great oath that I would neither
paint pigs nor feed pigs, but that I would prove myself worthy of the
generosity of my master and benefactor. I felt then that his goodness
was great; but how great it was I only realised in after years when I
came to learn his financial position. Bearing in mind the relativity of
things, I know that few fathers have sent their sons out into the world
with so princely a capital.
Fortune smiled on me; why, I don't know; perhaps because I was small
and sandy haired and harmless, and did not worry her. I sold two or
three pictures, I obtained regular employment on an illustrated
journal, and raised my price for contributions to Le Fou Rire.
Bread and butter were assured. There was never prouder youth than I,
when one August morning I started from Paris for Chartres, with fifty
superfluous pounds in my pocket which I determined to restore to
The old Paragot of the high roads, hairy and bronzed, and wearing a
great straw hat with wide brim turned down, met me at the little local
station. He forgot that he was half British and almost hugged me. At
last I had comeit was my third visitat last I had torn myself away
from that sacré Paris and its flesh-pots and its paint-pots and
Nothing is real in Paris, whether it be the smile on the painted
lady's lips or the dream of the young poet. Here, in the midst of God's
fields, there is no pretending, no shamming, no lying, none of your
confounded idealism. All is solid, mon gars. Solid like that,
and he thumped his chest to illustrate the argument.
Bucéphale, too? I queried with a laugh, as we fetched up beside
the most ancient horse in the Department, drooping between the shafts
of a springless cart. Needless to say, Bucéphale had been rechristened
in his extreme old age.
He is a living proof, cried Paragot, of the solidity rerum
agrestium. Look at him! Shew me a horse of his age in Paris. The
Paris horses, like Youth in the poem, grow pale and spectre thin and
die of premature decay. Here, mon petit, said he giving a sou
to a blue bloused urchin who was restraining the impetuous Bucéphale
from a wild gallop over the Eure et Loire, when you have spent that
come to La Haye and I will give you another.
He threw my bag into the cart, and we took our places on the plank
that served as a seat.
En route, Bucéphale! cried Paragot, gathering up the reins.
Observe the kindly manners of the country. If I had addressed him like
your Paris cabman with a 'Hue Cocotte!' it would have wounded
Bucéphale started off jog-trot down the straight white road edged
with poplars, while Paragot talked, and the sun blazed down upon us
from a cobalt sky. All around the fertile plain laughed in the
sunshinea giant, contented laugh, like that of its broad-faced,
broad-hipped daughters who greeted Paragot as we raced by at the rate
of five miles an hour. Did I ever meet a Paris horse that went this
speed? asked Paragot, and I answered him truthfully, Never.
We stopped in a white-walled, red-roofed village, beside a tiny shop
gloriously adorned with a gilt bull's head. The butcher's wife came
out. Bonjour, Monsieur Paragot.
Bonjour, Madame Jolivet, have you a nice fatted calf for
this young Prodigal from Paris? If you haven't, we can do with four
kilos of good beef.
And the result of ten minutes talk was a great lump of raw meat,
badly wrapped in newspaper, which Paragot, careless of my Paris
clothes, thrust on my knees, while he continued to drive Bucéphale. I
dropped the beef into the back of the cart. Paragot shook his head.
To-morrow, my son, you shall be clothed in humility and shall clean
out the cow pen.
I should prefer to accept your original invitation, Master, said
I, and help with the corn.
For Paragot, besides Bucéphale and cows and ducks and pigs and fowls
and a meadow or two, possessed a patch of cornfield of which he was
passionately proud. He had sown it himself that spring and now was
harvest. He pointed to it with his whip as soon as we came in sight of
My corn, my little Asticot. It is marvellous, eh? Who says
that Berzélius Nibbidard Paragot can't make things grow? I was born to
it. Nom de Dieu I could make anything grow. I could plant your
palette and it would come up a landscape. And sacré mille cochons, I have done the most miraculous thing of all. I am the father of a
human being, a real live human being, my son. He is small as yet, he
added apologetically, but still he is alive. He has teeth, Asticot. It
is the most remarkable thing in this astonishing universe.
The dim form of a woman standing with a child in her arms in front
of a group of farm buildings across the fields to the right, gradually
grew into the familiar figure of my dear Blanquette. She came down the
road to meet us, her broad homely face beaming with gladness and in her
eyes a new light of welcome. Narcisse trotted at her heels. The
rheumatism of advancing years gave him a distinguished gait.
We sprang from the cart. Bucéphale left to himself regarded the
family meeting with a grandfatherly air, until an earth-coloured
nondescript emerged from the ground and led him off towards the house.
After our embraces, we followed, Paragot dancing the delighted infant,
Blanquette with her great motherly arm around my shoulders, and
Narcisse soberly sniffing for adventure, after the manner of elderly
Do you remember, Asticot? said Blanquette. Four of us started for
Chambéry. Now five of us come to La Haye. C'est drôle, hein?
Tu es contente? I asked.
Her arm tightened, and her eyes grew moist.
Mais oui, she said in a low voice. Then she looked at
Paragot and the child, a yard or two in front of us.
He is the image of his father, she said almost reverentially.
I burst out laughing. Where the likeness lay between the chubby,
snub-nosed, eighteen months old baby, and the hairy, battered Paragot,
no human eye but Blanquette's could discover. I vowed he resembled a
little Japanese idol.
Pauvre chéri, said Blanquette, motherwise.
The house of Paragot was not a palace. It stood, low and
whitewashed, amid a medley of little tumble-down erections, and was
guarded on one side by cowsheds and on the other by the haystack. You
stepped across the threshold into the kitchen. A door on the right gave
access to the bedroom. A ladder connected with a hole in the roof
enabled you to reach the cockloft, the guest room of the establishment.
That was all. What on earth could man want more? asked Paragot. The old
rep suite, the table with the American cloth, the coloured prints in
gilt frames including the portrait of Garibaldi, the cheap deal
bookcases holding Paragot's tattered classics, gave the place an air of
familiar homeliness. A mattock, a gun and a cradle warred against old
When we entered, the child began to whimper. Perhaps it did not
approve of the gun. Like myself he may, in trembling fancy, have heard
its owner cry: I have an inspiration! Let us go out and shoot cows.
Paragot found another reason.
That infant's life is a perpetual rebellion against his name. I
chose Triptolème. A beautiful name. If you look at him you see it
written all over him. Blanquette was crazy for Thomas. In indignation I
swore he should be christened Triptolème Onésime. Blanquette wept. I
yielded. 'At least let him be called Didyme,' I pleaded. Didyme! There
is something caressing about Didyme. Repeat it. 'Didyme.' But no.
Blanquette wept louder. She wept so loud that all the ducks ran in to
see whether I was murdering her
It is not true! protested Blanquette. How can you say those
things? You know they are not true.
Her state was so terrible, continued my master, that I sacrificed
my son's destiny. Behold Thomas. I too would howl if I had such a
He is hungry, said Blanquette, and it is a very pretty name. He
likes to hear it, n'est-ce pas, mon petit Tho-Thom chéri? There!
She is really convinced that he has heard her call him Thomas. Oh,
woman! said Paragot.
That evening, after we had feasted on cabbage-soup and the piece of
beef which I had been too stuck-up to dandle on my knees, and clear
brown cider, the three of us sat outside the house, in the warm August
moonlight. Sinking into an infinitely far horizon stretched the
fruitful plain of France, cornland and pasture, and near us the stacked
sheaves of Paragot's corn stood quiet and pregnant symbols of the good
earth's plenty. Here and there dark patches of orchard dreamed in a
haze. Through one distant patch a farmhouse struck a muffled note of
grey. On the left the ribbon of road glistened white between the
sentinel poplars silhouetted against the sky. The hot smell of the
earth filled the air like spice. A thousand elfin sounds, the vibration
of leaves, the tiny crackling of cornstalks, the fairy whirr of ground
insects, melted into a companionable stillness.
Blanquette half dozed, her head against Paragot's shoulder, as she
had done that far-off evening of our return from Chambéry. The smoke
from his porcelain pipe curled upwards through the still air. I was
near enough to him on the other side, for him to lay his hand on my
My son, he whispered in English, I was right when I said I had
come to the end of my journey. Eventually I am right in everything. I
prophesied that I would make little Augustus Smith a scholar and a
gentleman. Te voilà. I knew that my long pilgrimage would
ultimately lead me to the Inner Shrine. Isn't all this, he waved his
pipe in a circular gesture, the Holy of Holies of the Real? Is there
any illusion in the unutterable poetry of the night? Is there anything
false in this promise of the fruitful earth? My God! Asticot, I am
happy! When the soul laughs tears come into the eyes. I have all that
the heart of man can desirethe love of this dear wife of minethe
child asleep within doorsthe printed wisdom of the world in a dozen
tongues of men, caught up hap-hazard in what I once, in a failing hour,
thought was my wildgoose chase after Truththe pride in you, my little
Asticot, the son of my adoptionand the most overpowering sleepiness
that ever sat upon mortal eyelid.
He yawned. I protested. It was barely nine o'clock.
It is bedtime, said Paragot. We have to get up at five.
Good Heavens, Master, said I, why these unearthly hours?
He laughed and quoted Candide.
Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
No, said the drowsy Blanquette at last understanding the
conversation, we have to cut the rest of the corn.
It's all the same, my dear, said Paragot tenderly. We were
talking philosophy. Philosophy merely means the love of wisdom. And all
that the wisdom of all the ages can tell us, is summed up in the last
words of one of the wisest books that ever was written: 'We must
cultivate our garden.'
But how my dear erratic master has managed for years and years to
cultivate the farm of La Haye and to bring up my godson in the fear of
the Lord and the practice of land surveying is a proof that the late
Mr. Matthew Arnold was hopelessly wrong in his categorical declaration
that miracles do not happen.