And Coincon had devastatingly insulted him. What worm was in the head of Moignon (the Paris music-hall agent) that he should send him such a monstrosity? He wasn't, nom de Dieu, carrying about freaks at a fair. He wanted a comedian and not a giant. No wonder the Cirque Rocambeau had come to grief, if it depended on such canaries as Lackaday. Didn't he know he was there to make the audience laugh?—not to give a representation of Monsieur Mounet-Sully elongated by the rack.
"Hop, man petit," said he at last. "F—— moi le camp," which is a very vulgar way of insisting on a person's immediate retirement. "Here is your week's salary. I gain by the proceeding. The baggage-man will see us through. He has done so before. As for Moignon—"
Although Lackaday regarded Moignon as a sort of god dispensing fame and riches, enthroned on unassailable heights of power, he trembled at the awful destiny that awaited him. He would be cast, like Lucifer from heaven. He would be stripped of authority. Coincon's invective against him was so terrible that Lackaday pitied him even more than he pitied himself. Yet there was himself to consider. As much use to apply to the fallen Moignon for an engagement as to the Convent of the Daughters of Calvary. He and Moignon and their joint fortunes were sent hurtling down into the abyss.
On the parapet of the Bridge of Despair leant young Lackaday, gazing unseeingly down into the Rhone. His sudden misfortune had been like the stunning blow of a sandbag. His brain still reeled. What had happened was incomprehensible. He knew his business. He could conceive no other. He had been trained to it since infancy. There was not a phase of clown's work with which he was not familiar. He was a passable gymnast, an expert juggler, a trick musician, an accomplished conjurer. All that the Merveilleux troupe act required from him he had been doing successfully for years. Why then the failure? He blamed the check suit, the ill-will of the company, the unreason of Madame Coincon....
It did not occur to him that he had emerged from an old world into a new. That between the old circus public and the new music-hall public there was almost a generation's change of taste and critical demand. The Cirque Rocambeau had gone round without perceiving that the world had gone round too. It wondered why its triumphant glory had declined; and it could not take steps to adapt itself to the new conditions which it could not appreciate. Everyone grew old and tradition-bound in the Cirque Rocambeau, even the horses, until gradually it perished of senile decay. Andrew Lackaday carrying on the traditions of his foster father, the clown Ben Flint, had remained with it, principal clown, to the very end. Now and then, rare passers through from the outer world, gymnasts down on their luck, glad to take a makeshift engagement while waiting for better things, had counselled him to leave the antiquated concern. But the Cirque Rocambeau had been the whole of his life, childhood, boyhood, young manhood; he was linked to it by the fibres of a generous nature. All those elderly anxious folk were his family. Many of the children, his contemporaries, trained in the circus, had flown heartlessly from the nest, and the elders had fatalistically lamented. Madame Rocambeau, bowed, wizened, of uncanny age, yet forceful and valiant to the last—carrying on for the old husband now lying paralysed in Paris who had inherited the circus from his father misty years ago, would say to the young man, when one of these defections occurred: "And you Andre, you are not going to leave us? You have a fine position, and if you are dissatisfied, perhaps we can come to an arrangement. You are a child of the circus and I love you like my own flesh and blood. We shall turn the corner yet. All that is necessary is faith—and a little youth." And Andrew, a simple soul, who had been trained in the virtues of honour and loyalty by the brave Ben Flint, would repudiate with indignation the suggestion of any selfish desire to go abroad and seek adventure.
At last, one afternoon, when the tent, a miserable gipsy thing compared with the proud pavilion of the days of the glory of Billy the pig, was pitched on the outskirts of a poor little town, they found Madame Rocambeau dead in the canvas box-office which she had occupied for fifty years, the heartbreaking receipts in front of her, counted out into little piles of bronze and small silver. The end had come. The circus could not be sold as a going concern. It crumbled away. Somebody bought the old horses, Heaven knows for what purpose. Somebody bought the antiquated harness and moth-eaten trappings. Somebody else bought the tents and fittings. But nobody bought the old careworn human beings, riders and gymnasts and stable hands who crept away into the bright free air of France, dazed and lost, like the prisoners released from the Bastille.
It was not so long ago; long enough ago, however, for young Andrew Lackaday to have come perilously near the end of his savings in Paris, before the Almighty Moignon (now curse-withered), but then vast and unctuous, reeking of fat food and diamonds and great cigars, had found him this engagement at Avignon. He had journeyed thither full of the radiant confidence of twenty. He stood on the bridge overwhelmed by the despair whose Tartarean blackness only twenty can experience.
Not a gleam anywhere of hope. His humiliation was absolute. The maniacal Coincon had not even given him an opportunity of redeeming his failure. He had been paid to go away. The disgusting yet necessary price of his shame rattled in his pockets. To-night the baggage man would play his part—a being once presumably trained, yet sunk so low in incompetence that he was glad to earn his livelihood as baggage man. And he, Andrew Lackaday, was judged more incompetent even than this degraded outcast. Why? How could it be? What was the reason? He dug his nails into his burning temples.
The summer sun beat down on him, and set a-glitter the currents in the Rhone. The ceaseless, laughing stream of citizens passed him by. Presently youth's need of action brought him half-unconsciously to an erect position. He glanced dully this way and that, and then slowly moved along the bridge towards the Villeneuve bank. Girls bare-headed, arm-in-arm, looked up at him and laughed, he was so long and lean and comical with his ugly lugubrious face and the little straw hat perched on top of his bushy carroty poll. He did not mind, being used to derision. In happier days he valued it, for the laugh would be accompanied by a nudge and a "Voila Auguste!" He took it as a tribute. It was fame. Now he was so deeply sunk in his black mood that he scarcely heeded. He walked on to the end of the bridge, and turned down the dusty pathway by the bank.
Suddenly he became aware of sounds of music and revelry, and a few yards further on he came to a broad dell shaded by plane trees and set out as a restaurant garden, with rude tables and benches, filled with good-humoured thirsty folk; on one side a weather-beaten wooden chalet, having the proud title of Restaurant du Rhone, served apparently but to house the supply of drinks which nondescript men and sturdy bare-headed maidens carried incessantly on trays to the waiting tables. On the dusty midway space—the garden boasted no blade of grass—couples danced to the strains of a wheezing hurdy-gurdy played by a white bearded ancient who at the end of each tune refreshed himself with a draught from a chope of beer on the ground by his side, while a tiny anaemic girl went round gathering sous in a shell. When the music stopped you could hear the whir and the click of the bowls in an adjoining dusty and rugged alley and the harsh excited cries of the players. During these intervals the serving people in an absent way would scatter an occasional carafe-full of water on the dancing floor to lay the dust.
Young Lackaday hung hesitatingly on the outskirts under the wooden archway that was at once the entrance and the sign-board. The music had ended. The tables were packed. He felt very thirsty and longed to enter and drink some of the beer which looked so cool in the long glasses surmounted by its half inch of white froth—inviting as sea-foam. Shyness held him. These prosperous, care-free bourgeois, almost indistinguishable one from the other by racial characteristics, and himself a tragic failure in life and physically unique among men, were worlds apart. It had never occurred to him before that he could find himself anywhere in France where the people were not his people. He felt heart-brokenly alien.
Presently the hurdy-gurdy started the ghostly tinkling of the Il Bacio waltz, and the ingenuous couples of Avignon rose and began to dance. The thirst-driven Lackaday plucked up courage, and strode to a deserted wooden table. He ordered beer. It was brought. He sipped luxuriously. One tells one's thirst to be patient, when one has to think of one's sous. He was half-way through when two girls, young and flushed from dancing together, flung themselves down on the opposite bench—the table between.
"We don't disturb you, Monsieur?"
He raised his hat politely. "By no means, Mesdemoiselles."
One of them with a quick gesture took up from the table a forgotten newspaper and began to fan herself and her companion, to the accompaniment of giggling and chatter about the heat. They were very young. They ordered grenadine syrup and eau-de-seltz. Andrew Lackaday stared dismally beyond them, at the dancers. In the happy, perspiring girls in front of him he took no interest, for all their youth and comeliness and obviously frank approachability. He saw nothing but the fury-enflamed face of Coincon and heard nothing but the rasping voice telling him that it was cheaper to pay him his week's salary than to allow him to appear again. And "f—— moi le camp!" Why hadn't he taken Coincon by the neck then and there with his long strong fingers and strangled him? Coincon would have had the chance of a rabbit. He had the strength of a dozen Coincons—he, trained to perfection, with muscle like dried bull's sinews. He could split an apple between arm and forearm, in the hollow of his elbow. Why shouldn't he go back and break Coincon's neck? No man alive had the right to tell him to f—— le camp!
"You don't seem very gay," said a laughing voice.
With a start he recovered consciousness of immediate surroundings. Instead of two girls opposite, there was only one. Vaguely he remembered that a man had come up.
"Un tour de valse, Mademoiselle?"
"Je vieux bien."
And one of the girls had gone, leaving her just sipped grenadine syrup and seltzer-water. But it had been like some flitting unreality of a dream.
At his blinking recovery the remaining girl laughed again.
"You look like a somnambulist."
He replied: "I beg pardon, Mademoiselle, but I was absorbed in my reflections."
"Black ones—hein? They have made you little infidelities?"
He frowned. "They? Who do you mean—they?"
"Un joli garcon is not absorbed in his reflections"—she mimicked his tone—"unless there is the finger of a petite femme to stir them round and darken them."
"Mademoiselle," said he, seriously. "You are quite mistaken. There's not a woman in the world against whom I have the slightest grudge."
He spoke truly. It was a matter of love, and Mme Coincon's hostility did not count.
"Word of honour," he added looking into the smiling ironical face.
Love had entered very little into his serious scheme of life. He had had his entanglements of course. There was Francine Dumesnil, who had fluttered into the Cirque Rocambeau as a slack wire artist, and after making him vows of undying affection, had eloped a week afterwards with Hans Petersen, the only man left who could stand on the bare back of a horse that was not thick with resin. But the heart of Andrew Lackaday had nothing to do with the heart of Francine Dumesnil. He had agreed with the aged Madame Rocambeau. Sales types, both of them.
"If it had been chagrin d'amour—sorrow of love, Mademoiselle," said he, "I should not have been so insensible to the presence of two such charming young ladies."
"We are polite, all the same," she remarked approvingly.
She sipped her grenadine. Having nothing further to say he sipped his beer. Presently she said:
"I saw you this afternoon at the boite." He looked at her with a touch of interest. No one would allude to the music-hall as the "box" except a fellow professional engaged there.
"You too?" he asked.
She nodded. She belonged to a troupe of dancing girls. As they were the first number, they got away early. She and her friend had gone for a walk and found this restaurant. It was gay, wasn't it? He said, soberly:
"You were dancing at rehearsal this morning. You've danced at the music-hall this afternoon, you'll be dancing again this evening—why do you dance here?"
"One can only be young once," she replied.
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen. And you?"
She would have given him thirty, she said, he looked so serious. And he, regarding her more narrowly, would have given her fifteen. She was very young, slight, scarcely formed, yet her movements were lithe and complete like those of a young lizard. She had laughing, black eyes and a fresh mouth set in a thin dark face that might one day grow haggard or coarse, according to her physical development, but was now full with the devil's beauty of youth. A common type, one that would not arrest masculine eyes as she passed by. Dozens of the girls there round about might have called her sister. She was dressed with cheap neatness, the soiled white wing of a bird in her black hat being the only touch of bravura. She spoke with the rich accent of the South.
"You are of the Midi?" he said.
Yes. She came from Marseilles. Ingenuously chattering she gave him her family history. In the meanwhile her companions and her partner having finished their dance had retired to a sequestered corner of the restaurant, leaving the pair here to themselves. Lackaday learned that her name was Elodie Figasso. Her father was dead. Her mother was a dressmaker, in which business she, too, had made her apprenticeship. But an elderly man, a huissier, one of those people who go about with a tricolour-rosetted cocked hat, and steel buttons and canvas trousers and a leather satchel chained to their waist, had lately diverted from Elodie the full tide of maternal affection. As she hated the huissier, a vulgar man who thought of nothing but the good things that the Veuve Figasso could put into his stomach, and as her besotted mother starved them both in order to fulfil the huissier's demands, and as she derived no compensating joy from her dressmaking, she had found, thanks to a friend, a positron as figurante in a Marseilles Revue, and, voila—there she was free, independent, and, since she had talent and application, was now earning her six francs a day.
She finished her grenadine. Then with a swift movement she caught a passing serving maid and slipped into her hand the money for her companion's scarcely tasted drink and her own. Instantly Andrew protested—Mademoiselle must allow him to have the pleasure.
But no—never in life, she had not intruded on his table to have free drinks. As for the consommation of the feather-headed Margot—from Margot herself would she get reimbursement.
"But yet, Mademoiselle," said he, "you make me ashamed. You must still be thirsty—like myself."
"Ca ne vous genera pas?"
She asked the question with such a little air of serious solicitude that he laughed, for the first time. Would it upset his budget, involve the sacrifice of a tram ride or a packet of tobacco, if he spent a few sous on more syrup for her delectation? And yet the delicacy of her motive appealed to him. Here was a little creature very honest, very much of the people, very proud, very conscientious.
"On the contrary, Mademoiselle," said he, "I shall feel that you do me an honour."
"It is not to be refused," said she politely, and the serving maid was despatched for more beer and syrup.
"I waited to see your turn," she said, after a while.
"Ah!" he sighed.
She glanced at him swiftly. "It does not please you that I should talk about it?"
"Not very much," said he.
"But I found you admirable," she declared. "Much better than that espece de poule mouillee—I already forget his name—who played last week. Oh—a wet hen—he was more like a drowned duck. So when I heard a comedian from Paris was coming, I said: 'I must wait' and Margot and I waited in the wings—and we laughed. Oh yes, we laughed."
"It's more than the audience did," said the miserable Andrew.
The audience! Of Avignon! She had never played to such an audience in her her life. They were notorious, these people, all over France. They were so stupid that before they would laugh you had to tell them a thing was funny, and then they were so suspicious that they wouldn't laugh for fear of being deceived.
All of which, of course, is a libel on the hearty folk of Avignon. But Elodie was from Marseilles, which naturally has a poor opinion of the other towns of Provence. She also lied for the comforting of Lackaday.
"They are so unsympathetic," said he, "that I shall not play any more."
She knitted her young brow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I play neither to-night nor to-morrow night, nor ever again. To-morrow I return to Paris."
She regarded him awe-stricken. "You throw up an engagement—just like that—because the audience doesn't laugh?"
She had heard vague fairy-tales of pampered opera-singers acting with such Olympian independence; but never a music-hall artist on tour. He must be very rich and powerful.
Lackaday read the thought behind the wide-open eyes.
"Not quite like that," he admitted honestly. "It did not altogether depend on myself. You see the patron found that the audience didn't laugh and the patronne found that my long body spoiled her act—and so—I go to Paris to-morrow."
She rose from the depths of envying wonder to the heights of pity. She flashed indignation at the abominable treatment he had received from the Coincons. She scorched them with her contempt. What right had that tortoise of a Madame Coincon to put on airs? She had seen better juggling in a booth at a fair. Her championship warmed Andrew's heart, and he began to feel less lonely in a dismal and unappreciative world. Longing for further healing of an artist's wounded vanity he said:
"Tell me frankly. You did see something to admire in my performance?"
"Haven't I always said so? Tiens, would you like me to tell you something? All my life I have loved Auguste in a circus. You know Auguste—the clown? Well, you reminded me of Auguste and I laughed."
"Until lately I was Auguste—in the Cirque Rocambeau."
She clapped her hands.
"But I have seen you there—when I was quite little—three—four years ago at Marseilles."
"Four years," said Andrew looking into the dark backward and abysm of time.
"Yes, I remember you well, now. We're old friends."
"I hope you'll allow me to continue the friendship," said Andrew.
They talked after the way of youth. He narrated his uneventful history. She added details to the previous sketch of her own career. The afternoon drew to a close. The restaurant garden emptied; the good folks of Avignon returned dinnerwards across the bridge. They looked for Margot, but Margot had disappeared, presumably with her new acquaintance. Elodie sniffed in a superior manner. If Margot didn't take care, she would be badly caught one of these days. For herself, no, she had too much character. She wouldn't walk about the streets with a young man she had only known for five minutes. She told Andrew so, very seriously, as they strolled over the bridge arm-in-arm.
They parted, arranging to meet at 10 o'clock when she was free from the music-hall, at the Cafe des Negociants or the Place de l'Hotel de Ville.
Andrew, shrinking from the table d'hote in the mangy hotel in a narrow back street where the Merveilleux troupe had their crowded being, dined at a cheap restaurant near the railway station, and filled in the evening with aimless wandering up and and down the thronged Avenue de la Gare. Once he turned off into the quiet moonlit square dominated by the cathedral and the walls and towers of the Palace of the Popes. The austere beauty of it said nothing to him. It did not bring calm to a fevered spirit. On the contrary, it depressed a spirit longing for a little fever, so he went back to the broad, gay Avenue where all Avignon was taking the air. A girl's sympathy had reconciled him with his kind.
She came tripping up to him, almost on the stroke of ten, as he sat at the outside edge of the cafe terrace, awaiting her. The reconciliation was complete. Like most of the young men there, he too had his maid. They met as if they had known each other for years. She was full of an evil fellow, un gros type, with a roll of fat at the back of his neck and a great diamond ring which flashed in the moonlight, who had waited for her at the stage door and walked by her side, pestering her with his attentions.
"And do you know how I got rid of him? I said: 'Monsieur, I can't walk with you through the streets on account of my comrades. But I swear to you that you will find me at the Cafe des Negotiants at a quarter past ten.' And so I made my escape. Look," said she excitedly, gripping Andrew's arm, "here he is."
She met the eyes of the gros type with the roll of fat and the diamond ring, who halted somewhat uncertainly in front of the cafe. Whereupon Andrew rose to his long height of six foot four and, glaring at the offender, put him to the flight of over-elaborated unconcern. Elodie was delighted.
"You could have eaten him up alive, n'est-ce pas, Andre?"
And Andrew felt the thrill of the successful Squire of Dames. For the rest of the evening, there was no longer any 'Monsieur' or 'Mademoiselle.' It was Andre and Elodie.
Yes, he would write to her from Paris, telling her of his fortunes. And she too would write. The Agence Moignon would always find him. It is parenthetically to be noted how his afternoon fears of the impermanence of the Agence Moignon had vanished. Time flew pleasantly. She seemed to have set herself, her youth and her femininity, to the task of evoking the wide baby smile on his good-natured though dismal face. It was only on their homeward way, after midnight, that she mentioned the 'boile.' There had been discussions. Some had said this and some had said that. There had been partisans of the Coincons and partisans of Andre. There was subject matter for one of the pretty quarrels dear to music-hall folk. But Elodie summed up the whole matter, with her air of precocious wisdom—a wisdom gained in the streets and sewing-rooms and cafes-concerts of Marseilles.
"What you do is excellent, mon cher; but it is vieux jeu. The circus is not the music-hall. You must be original."
As originality was banned from the circus tradition, he stood still in the narrow, quiet street and gasped.
"You are so long and thin," she said.
"That has always been against me; it was against me to-day."
"But you could make it so droll," she declared. "And there would be no one else like you. But you must be by yourself, not with a troupe like the Merveilleux. Tiens," she caught him by the lapels of his jacket and a passer-by might have surmised a pleading stage in a lovers' discussion, "I have heard there is a little little man in London—oh, so little, et pas du tout joli."
"I know," said Andrew, "but he is a great artist."
"And so are you," she retorted. "But as this little man gets all the profit he can out of his littleness—it was la grosse Leonie—the brune, number three, you know—ah, but you haven't seen us—anyhow she has been in London and was telling me about him this evening—all that nature has endowed him with he exaggerates—eh bien! Why couldn't you do the same?"
The street was badly lit with gas; but still he could see the flash in her dark eyes. He drew himself up and laid both his hands on her thin shoulders.
"My little Elodie," said he—and by the dim gaslight she could see the flash of his teeth revealed by his wide smile—"My little Elodie, you have genius. You have given me an idea that may make my fortune. What can I give you in return?"
"If you want to show me that you are not ungrateful, you might kiss me," said Elodie.
A kiss must mean either very much or very little. There are maidens to whom it signifies a life's consecration. There are men whose blood it fires with burning passion. There are couples of different sex who jointly consider their first kiss a matter of supreme importance, and, the temporary rapture over, at once begin to discuss the possibilities of parental approbation and the ways and means of matrimony. A kiss may be the very devil of a thing leading to two or three dozen honourably born grandchildren, or to suicide, or to celebate addiction to cats, or to eugenic propaganda, or to perpetual crape and the boredom of a community, or to the fate of Abelard, or to the Fall of Troy, or to the proud destiny of a William the Conqueror. I repeat that it is a ticklish thing to go and meddle with it without due consideration. And in some cases consideration only increases the fortuity of its results. Volumes could be written on it.
If you think that the kiss exchanged between Andrew and Elodie had any such immediate sentimental or tragical or heroical consequences you are mistaken. Andrew responded with all the grace in the world to the invitation. It was a pleasant and refreshing act. He was grateful for her companionship, her sympathy, and her inspired counsel. She carried off her frank comradeship with such an air of virginal innocence, and at the same time with such unconscious exposure of her half fulfilled womanhood, that he suffered no temptations of an easy conquest. The kiss therefore evoked no baser range of emotion. As his head was whirling with an artist's sudden conception—and, mark you, an artist's conception need no more be a case of parthenogenesis than that of the physical woman—it had no room for the higher and subtler and more romantical idealizations of the owner of the kissed lips. You may put him down for an insensible young egoist. Put him down for what you will. His embrace was but gratefully fraternal.
As for Elodie, if it were not dangerous—she had the street child's instinct—what did a kiss or two matter? If one paid all that attention to a kiss one's life would be a complicated drama of a hundred threads.
"A kiss is nothing"—so ran one of her obiter dicta recorded somewhere in the manuscript—"unless you feel it in your toes. Then look out."
Evidently this kiss Elodie did not feel in her toes, for she walked along carelessly beside him to the door of her hotel, a hostelry possibly a shade more poverty-stricken in a flag paved by-street, a trifle staler-smelling than his own, and there put out a friendly hand of dismissal.
"We will write to each other?"
"It is agreed."
"Alors, au revoir."
"Au revoir, Elodie, et merci."
And that was the end of it. Andrew went back to Paris by the first train in the morning, and Elodie continued to dance in Avignon.
If they had maintained, as they vaguely promised, an intimate correspondence, it might have developed, according to the laws of the interchange of sentiment between two young and candid souls, into a reciprocal expression of the fervid state which the kiss failed to produce. A couple of months of it, and the pair, yearning for each other, would have effected by hook or crook, a delirious meeting, and young Romance would have had its triumphant way. But to the gods it seemed otherwise. Andrew wrote, as in grateful duty bound. He wrote again. If she had replied, he would have written a third time; but as there are few things more discouraging than a one-sided correspondence, he held his hand. He felt a touch of disappointment. She was such a warm, friendly little creature, with a sagacious little head on her—by no means the tete de linotte of so many of her sisters of song and dance. And she had forgotten him. He shrugged philosophic shoulders. After all, why should she trouble herself further with so dull a dog? Man-like he did not realize the difficulties that beset even a sagacious-headed daughter of song and dance in the matter of literary composition, and the temptation to postpone from day to day the grappling with them, until the original impulse has spent itself through sheer procrastination. It is all very well to say that a letter is an easy thing to write, when letter-writing is a daily habit and you have writing materials and table all comfortably to hand. But when, like Elodie, you would have to go into a shop and buy a bottle of ink and a pen and paper and envelopes and take them up to a tiny hotel bedroom shared with an untidy, space-usurping colleague, or when you would have to sit at a cafe table and write under the eyes of a not the least little bit discreet companion—for even the emancipated daughters of song and dance cannot, in modesty, show themselves at cafes alone; or when you have to stand up in a post office—and then there is the paper and envelope difficulty—with a furious person behind you who wants to send a telegram—Elodie's invariable habit when she corresponded, on the back of a picture post card, with her mother; when, in fact, you have before you the unprecedented task of writing a letter—picture post cards being out of the question—and a letter whose flawlessness of expression is prescribed by your vanity, or better by your nice little self-esteem, and you are confronted by such conditions as are above catalogued, human frailty may be pardoned for giving it up in despair.
With this apologia for Elodie's unresponsiveness, conscientiously recorded later by Andrew Lackaday, we will now proceed. The fact remains that they faded pleasantly and even regretlessly from each other's lives.
There now follow some years, in Lackaday's career, of high endeavour and fierce struggle. He has taken to heart Elodie's suggestion of the exploitation of his physical idiosyncracy. He seeks for a formula. In the meanwhile he gains his livelihood as he can. His powers of mimicry stand him in good stead. In the outlying cafe-concerts of Paris, unknown to fashion or the foreigner, he gives imitations of popular idols from Le Bargy to Polin. But the Ambassadeurs, and the Alcazar d'Ete and the Folies Marigny and Olympia and such-like stages where fame and fortune are to be found, will have none of him. Paris, too, gets on his vagabond nerves. But what is the good of presenting the unsophisticated public of Brest or Beziers with an imitation of Monsieur le Bargy? As well give them lectures on Thermodynamics.
Sometimes he escapes from mimicry. He conjures, he juggles, he plays selections from Carmen and Cavaleria Rusticana on a fiddle made out of a cigar box and a broom-handle. The Provinces accept him with mild approbation. He tries Paris, the Paris of Menilmontant and the Outer Boulevards; but Paris, not being amused, prefers his mimicry. He is alone, mind you. No more Coincon combinations. If he is to be insulted, let the audience do it, or the vulgar theatre management; not his brother artists. Away from his imitations he tries to make the most of his grotesque figure. He invents eccentric costumes; his sleeves reach no further than just below his elbows, his trouser hems flick his calves; he wears, inveterate tradition of the circus clown, a ridiculously little hard felt hat on the top of his shock of carroty hair. He paints his nose red and extends his grin from ear to ear. He racks his brain to invent novelties in manual dexterity. For hours a day in his modest chambre garnie in the Faubourg Saint Denis he practises his tricks. On the dissolution of the Cirque Rocambeau, where as "Auguste" he had been practically anonymous, he had unimaginatively adopted the professional name of Andrew-Andre. He is still Andrew-Andre. There is not much magic about it on a programme. But, que voulez-vous? It is as effective as many another.
During this period we see him a serious youth, absorbed in his profession, striving towards success, not for the sake of its rewards in luxurious living, but for the stamp that it gives to efficiency. The famous mountebank of Notre Dame did not juggle with greater fervour. Here and there a woman crosses his path, lingers a little and goes her way. Not that he is insensible to female charms, for he upbraids himself for over-susceptibility. But it seems that from the atavistic source whence he inherited his beautiful hands, there survived in him an instinct which craved in woman the indefinable quality that he could never meet, the quality which was common to Melisande and Phedre and Rosalind and Fedora and the child-wife of David Copperfield. It is, as I have indicated, the ladies who bid him bonsoir. Sometimes he mourns for a day or two, more often he laughs, welcoming regained freedom. None touches his heart. Of men, he has acquaintances in plenty, with whom he lives on terms of good comradeship; but he has scarcely an intimate.
At last he makes a friend—an Englishman, Horatio Bakkus; and this friendship marks a turning-point in his history.
They met at a cafe-concert in Montmartre, which, like many of its kind, had an ephemeral existence—the nearest, incidentally, to the real Paris to which Andrew Lackaday had attained. It tried to appeal to a catholicity of tastes; to outdo its rivals inscabrousness—did not Farandol and Lizette Blandy make their names there?—and at the same time to offer to the purer-minded an innocent entertainment. To the latter both Lackaday, with his imitations, and Horatio Bakkus, with his sentimental ballads, contributed. Somehow the mixture failed to please. The one part scared the virtuous, at the other the deboshed yawned. La Boite Blanche perished of inanition. But during its continuance, Lackaday and Bakkus had a month's profitable engagement.
They bumped into each other, on their first night, at the stage-door. Each politely gave way to the other. They walked on together and turned down the Rue Pigalle and, striking off, reached the Grands Boulevards. The Brasserie Tourtel enticed them. They entered and sat down to a modest supper, sandwiches and brown beer.
"I wish," said Andrew, "you would do me the pleasure to speak English with me."
"Why?" cried the other. "Is my French so villainous?"
"By no means," said Andrew, "but I am an Englishman."
"Then how the devil do you manage to talk both languages like a Frenchman?"
"Why? Is my English then so villainous?"
He mimicked him perfectly. Horatio Bakkus laughed.
"Young man," said he, "I wish I had your gift."
"And I yours."
"It's the rottenest gift a man can be born with," cried Bakkus with startling vindictiveness. "It turns him into an idle, sentimental, hypocritical and dissolute hound. If I hadn't been cursed young with a voice like a Cherub, I should possibly be on the same affable terms with the Almighty as my brother, the Archdeacon, or profitably paralysing the intellects of the young like my brother, the preparatory schoolmaster."
He was a lean and rusty man of forty, with long black hair brushed back over his forehead, and cadaverous cheeks and long upper lip which all the shaving in the world could not redeem for the blue shade of the strong black beard which at midnight showed almost black. But for his black, mocking eyes, he might have been taken for the seedy provincial tragedian of the old school.
"Young man——" said he.
"My name," said Andrew, "is Lackaday."
"And you don't like people to be familiar and take liberties."
Andrew met the ironical glance. "That is so," said he quietly.
"Then, Mr. Lackaday——"
"You can omit the 'Mr.,'" said Andrew, "if you care to do so."
"You're more English than I thought," smiled Horatio Bakkus.
"I'm proud that you should say so," replied Andrew.
"I was about to remark," said Bakkus, "when you interrupted me, that I wondered why a young Englishman of obviously decent upbringing should be pursuing this contemptible form of livelihood."
"I beg your pardon," said Andrew, pausing in the act of conveying to his mouth a morsel of sandwich. He was puzzled; comrades down on their luck had cursed the profession for a sale metier and had wished they were road sweepers; but he had never heard it called contemptible. It was a totally new conception.
Bakkus repeated his words and added: "It is below the dignity of one made in God's image."
"I am afraid I do not agree with you," replied Andrew, stiffly. "I was born in the profession and honourably bred in it and I have known no other and do not wish to know any other."
"You were born an imitator? It seems rather a narrow scheme of life."
"I was born in a circus, and whatever there could be learned in a circus I was taught. And it was, as you have guessed, a decent upbringing. By Gum, it was!" he added, with sudden heat.
"And you're proud of it?"
"I don't see that I've got anything else to be proud of," said Andrew.
"And you must be proud of something?"
"If not you had better be dead," said Andrew.
"Ah!" said Bakkus, and went on with his supper.
Andrew, who had hitherto held himself on the defensive against impertinence, and was disposed to dislike the cynical attitude of his new acquaintance, felt himself suddenly disarmed by this "Ah!" Perhaps he had dealt too cruel a blow at the disillusioned owner of the pretty little tenor voice in which he could not take very much pride. Bakkus broke a silence by remarking:
"I envy you your young enthusiasm. You don't think it better we were all dead?"
"I should think not!" cried Andrew.
"You say you know all that a circus can teach you. What does that mean? You can ride bare back and jump through hoops?"
"I learned to do that—for Clown's business," replied Andrew. "But that's no good to me now. I am a professional juggler and conjurer and trick musician. I'm also a bit of a gymnast and sufficient of a contortionist to do eccentric dancing."
Bakkus took a sip of beer, and regarded him with his mocking eyes.
"And you'd sooner keep on throwing up three balls in the air for the rest of your natural life than just be comfortably dead? I should like to know your ideas on the point. What's the good of it all? Supposing you're the most wonderful expert that ever lived—supposing you could keep up fifty balls in the air at the same time, and could balance fifty billiard cues, one on top of another, on your nose—what's the good of it?"
Andrew rubbed his head. Such problems had never occurred to him. Old Ben Flint's philosophy pounded into him, at times literally with a solid and well-deserved paternal cuff, could be summed up in the eternal dictum: "That which thou hast to do, do it with all thy might." It was the beginning and end of his rule of life. He looked not, nor thought of looking, further. And now came this Schopenhaurian with his question. "What's the good of it?"
"I suppose I'm an artist, in my way," he replied, modestly.
"Artist?" Bakkus laughed derisively. "Pardon me, but you don't know what the word means. An artist interprets nature in concrete terms of emotion, in words, in colour, in sound, in stone—I don't say that he deserves to live. I could prove to you, if I had time, that Michael Angelo and Dante and Beethoven were the curses of humanity. Much better dead. But, anyhow, they were artists. Even I with my tinpot voice singing 'Annie Laurie' and 'The Sands of Dee' and such-like clap-trap which brings a lump in the throat of the grocer and his wife, am an artist. But you, my dear fellow—with your fifty billiard cues on top of your nose? There's a devil of a lot of skill about it of course—but nothing artistic. It means nothing."
"Yet if I could perform the feat," said Andrew, "thousands and thousands of people would come to see me; more likely a million."
"No doubt. But what would be the good of it, when you had done it and they had seen it? Sheer waste of half your lifetime and a million hours on the part of the public, which is over forty thousand days, which is over a hundred years. Fancy a century of the world's energy wasted in seeing you balance billiard cues on the end of your nose!"
Andrew reflected for a long time, his elbow on the cafe table, his hand covering his eyes. There must surely be some fallacy in this remorseless argument which reduced his life's work to almost criminal futility. At last light reached him. He held out his other hand and raised his head.
"Attendez. I must say in French what has come into my mind. Surely I am an artist according to your definition. I interpret nature, the marvellous human mechanism in terms of emotion—the emotion of wonder. The balance of fifty billiard cues gives the million people the same catch at the throat as the song or the picture, and they lose themselves for an hour in a new revelation of the possibilities of existence, and so I save the world a hundred years of the sorrow and care of life."
Bakkus looked at him approvingly. "Good," said he. "Very good. Thank God, I've at last come across a man with a brain that isn't atrophied for want of use. I love talking for talking's sake—good talk—don't you?"
"I cannot say that I do," replied Andrew honestly, "I have never thought of it.'
"But you must, my dear Lackaday. You have no idea how it stimulates your intellect. It crystallizes your own vague ideas and sends you away with the comforting conviction of what a damned fool the other fellow is. It's the cheapest recreation in the world—when you can get it. And it doesn't matter whether you're in purple and fine linen or in rags or in the greasy dress-suit of a cafe-concert singer." He beckoned the waiter. "Shall we go?"
They parted outside and went their respective ways. The next night they again supped together, and the night after that, until it became a habit. In his long talks with the idle and cynical tenor, Andrew learned many things.
Now, parenthetically, certain facts in the previous career of Andrew Lackaday have to be noted.
Madame Flint had brought him up nominally in the Roman Catholic Faith, which owing to his peripatetic existence was a very nebulous affair without much real meaning; and Ben Flint, taking more pains, had reared him in a sturdy Lancashire Fear of God and Duty towards his Neighbour and Duty towards himself, and had given him the Golden Rule above mentioned. Ben had also seen to his elementary education, so that the regime du participe passe had no difficulties for him, and Racine and Bossuet were not empty names, seeing that he had learned by heart extracts from the writings of these immortals in his school primer. That they conveyed little to him but a sense of paralysing boredom is neither here nor there. And Ben Flint, most worthy and pertinacious of Britons, for the fourteen impressionable years during which he was the arbiter of young Andrew's destiny, never for an hour allowed him to forget that he was an Englishman. That Andrew should talk French, his stepmother tongue, to all the outside world was a matter of necessity. But if he addressed a word of French to him, Ben Flint, there was the devil to pay. And if he picked up from the English stable hands vulgarisms and debased vowel sounds, Ben Flint had the genius to compel their rejection.
"My father," writes Lackaday—for as such he always regarded Ben Flint—"was the most remarkable man I have ever known. That he loved me with his whole nature I never doubted and I worshipped the ground on which he trod. But he was remorseless in his enforcement of obedience. Looking back, I am lost in wonder at his achievement."
Still, even Ben Flint could not do everything. The eternal precepts of morality, the colloquial practice of English speech, the ineradicable principles of English birth and patriotism, the elementary though thorough French education, the intensive physical training in all phases of circus life, took every hour that Ben Flint could spare from his strenuous professional career as a vagabond circus clown. I who knew Ben Flint, and drank of his wisdom gained in many lands, have been disposed to wonder why he did not empty it to broaden the intellectual and aesthetic horizon of his adopted son. But on thinking over the matter—how could he? He had spent all his time in filling up the boy with essentials. Just at that time when Andrew might have profited by the strong, rough intellectuality that had so greatly attracted me as a young man, Ben Flint died. In the realm of gymnasts, jugglers, circus-riders, dancers in which Andrew had thence found his being, there was no one to replace the mellow old English clown, who travelled around with Sterne and Montaigne and Shakespeare and Bunyan and the Bible, as the only books of his permanent library. Such knowledge as he possessed of the myriad activities of the great world outside his professional circle he had picked up in aimless and desultory reading.
In Horatio Bakkus, therefore, Andrew met for the first time a human being interested in the intellectual aspect of life; one who advanced outrageous propositions just for the joy of supporting them and of refuting counter-arguments; one, in fact, who, to his initial amazement, could juggle with ideas as he juggled with concrete objects. In this companionship he found an unknown stimulus. He would bid his friend adieu and go away, his brain catching feverishly at elusive theories and new conceptions. Sometimes he went off thrilled with a sense of intellectual triumph. He had beaten his adversary. He had maintained his simple moral faith against ingenious sophistry. He realized himself as a thinking being, impelled by a new force to furnish himself with satisfying reasons for conduct. It was through Horatio Bakkus that he discovered The Venus of Milo and Marcus Aurelius and Longchamps races....
From the last he derived the most immediate benefit.
"If you've never been to a race-meeting," said Bakkus, "you've missed one of the elementary opportunities of a liberal education. Nowhere else can you have such a chance of studying human imbecility, knavery and greed. You can also glut your eyes with the spectacle of useless men, expensive women, and astounded, sensitive animals."
"I prefer," replied Andrew, with his wide grin, "to keep my faith in mankind and horses."
"And I," said Bakkus, "love to realize myself for what I really am, an imbecile, a knave, and a useless craver of money for which I've not had the indignity of working. It soothes me to feel that for all my heritage of culture I am nothing more or less than one of the rabble-rout. I've backed horses ever since I was a boy and in my time I've had a pure delight in pawning my underwear in order to do so."
"It seems to be the height of folly," said sober Andrew.
Bakkus regarded him with his melancholy mocking eyes.
"To paraphrase a remark of yours on the occasion of our first meeting—if a man is not a fool in something he were better dead. At any rate let me show you this fool's playground."
So Andrew assented. They went to Longchamps, humbly, on foot, mingling with the Paris crowd. Bakkus wore a sun-stained brown and white check suit and an old grey bowler hat and carried a pair of racing-glasses slung across his shoulders, all of which transformed his aspect from that, in evening dress, of the broken old tragedian to that of the bookmaker's tout rejected of honest bookmaking men. As for Andrew, he made no change in his ordinary modest ill-fitting tweeds, of which the sleeves were never long enough; and his long red neck mounted high above the white of his collar and his straw hat was, as usual, clamped on the carroty thatch of his hair. For them no tickets for stands, lawn or enclosure. The far off gaily dressed crowd in these exclusive demesnes shimmered before Andrew's vision as remote as some radiant planetary choir. The stir on the field, however, excited him. The sun shone through a clear air on this late meeting of the season, investing it with an air of innocent holiday gaiety which stultified Bakkus's bleak description. And Andrew's great height overtopping the crowd afforded him a fair view of the course.
Bakkus came steeped in horse-lore and confidently prophetic. To the admiration of Andrew he ran through the entries for each race, analysing their histories, summarizing their form, and picking out dead certainties with an esoteric knowledge derived from dark and mysterious sources. Andrew followed him to the booths of the Pari Mutuel, and betting his modest five franc piece, on each of the first two events, found Bakkus infallible. But on looking down the list of entries for the great race of the day he was startled to find a name which he had only once met with before and which he had all but forgotten. It was "Elodie."
"My friend," said Bakkus, "now is the time to make a bold bid for a sure fortune. There is a horse called Goffredo who is quoted in the sacred inner ring of those that know at 8 to 1. I have information withheld from this boor rabble, that he will win, and that he will come out at about 15 to 1. I shall therefore invest my five louis in the certain hope of seventy-five beautiful golden coins clinking into my hand. Come thou and do likewise."
"I'm going to back Elodie," said Andrew.
Bakkus stared at him. "Elodie—that ambulatory assemblage of cat's meat! Why she has never been placed in a race in her life. Look at her." He pulled Andrew as near the railings as they could get and soon picked her out of the eight or nine cantering down the straight—a sleek, mild, contented bay whose ambling gentleness was greeted with a murmur of derision. "Did you ever see such a cow?"
"I like the look of her," said Andrew.
"Why—in the name of——"
"She looks as if she would be kind to children," replied Andrew.
They rushed quickly to the Pari Mutuel. Bakkus paid his five louis for his Goffredo ticket. He turned to seek Andrew, but Andrew had gone. In a moment or two they met among the scurrying swarm about the booths.
"What have you done?"
"I've put a louis on Elodie," said Andrew.
"The next time I want to give you a happy day I'll take you to the Young Men's Christian Association," said Bakkus witheringly.
"Let us see the race," said Andrew.
They paid a franc apiece for a stand on a bench and watched as much of the race as they could see. And Bakkus forgot to share his glasses with Andrew, who caught now and then an uncomprehending sight of coloured dots on moving objects and gaped in equally uncomprehensible bewilderment when the racing streak flashed home up the straight. A strange cry, not of gladness but of wonder, burst from the great crowd. Andrew turned to Bakkus, who, with glasses lowered, was looking at him with hollow eyes from which the mockery had fled.
"What's the matter?" asked Andrew.
"The matter? Your running nightmare has won. Why the devil couldn't you have given me the tip? You must have known something. No one could play such a game without knowing. It's damned unfriendly."
"Believe me, I had no tip," Andrew protested. "I never heard of the beast before."
"Then why the blazes did you pick her out?"
"Ah!" said Andrew. Then realizing that his philosophical and paradoxical friend was in sordid earnest he said mildly:
"There was a girl of that name who once brought me good luck."
The gambler, alive to superstitious intuitions, repented immediately of his anger.
"That's worth all the tips in the world. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't wear my heart upon my sleeve," replied Andrew.
So peace was made. They joined the thin crowd round their booth of the Pari Mutuel, mainly composed of place winners, and when the placards of the odds went up, Bakkus gripped his companion's arm.
"My God! A hundred and three to one. Why didn't you plank on your last penny."
"I'm very well content with two thousand francs," said Andrew. "It's something against a rainy day."
They reached the guichet and Andrew drew his money.
"Suppose the impossible animal hadn't won—you would have been rather sick."
"No," Andrew replied, after a moment's thought. "I should have regarded my louis as a tribute to the memory of one who did me a great service."
"I believe," said Bakkus, "that if I could only turn sentimentalist, I should make my fortune."
"Let us go and find a drink," said Andrew.
For the second time Elodie brought him luck. This time in the shape of a hundred and three louis, a goodly sum when one has to live from hand to mouth. And the time came, at the end of their engagement at La Boite Blanche, when they lost even that precarious method of existence. For the first time in his life Andrew spent a month in vain search for employment. Dead season Paris had more variety artists than it knew what to do with. The provinces, so the rehabilitated Moignon and his confreres, the other agents, declared, in terms varying from apologetic stupor to frank brutality, had no use for Andrew-Andre and his unique entertainment.
"But what shall I do?" asked the anxious Andre.
"Wait, mon cher, we shall soon well arrange it," said Moignon.
"?" pantomimed the other agents, with shrugged shoulders and helplessly outspread hands.
And it happened too that Bakkus, the sweet ballad-monger, found himself on the same rocks of unemployment.
"I have," said he, one evening, when the stranded pair were sitting outside a horrid little liquor retreat with a zinc bar in the Faubourg Saint-Denis—the luxury of consommations at sixty centimes on the Grands Boulevards had faded from their dreams—"I have, my dear friend, just enough to carry me on for a fortnight."
"And I too," said Andrew.
"But your hundred louis at Longchamps?"
"They're put away," said Andrew.
"Thank God," said Bakkus.
Andrew detected a lack of altruism in the pious note of praise. He did not love Bakkus to such a pitch of brotherly affection as would warrant his relieving him of responsibility for self support. He had already fed Bakkus for three days.
"They're put away," he repeated.
"Bring them out of darkness into the light of day," said Bakkus. "What are talents in a napkin? You are a capitalist—I am a man with ideas. May I order another of this mastroquet's bowel-gripping absinthes in order to expound a scheme? Thank you, my dear Lackaday. Oui, encore une. Tell me have you ever been to England?"
"No," said Lackaday.
"Have you ever heard of Pierrots?"
"On the stage—masked balls—yes."
"But real Pierrots who make money?"
"In England? What do you mean?"
"There is in England a blatant, vulgar, unimaginative, hideous institution known as the Seaside."
"Well?" said Andrew.
The dingy proprietor of the "Zingue" brought out the absinthe. Bakkus arranged the perforated spoon, carrying its lump of sugar over the glass and began to drop the water from the decanter.
"If you will bear with me for a minute or two, until the sugar's melted, I'll tell you all about it."
It was a successful combination. Bakkus sang his ballads and an occasional humorous song of the moment to Andrew's accompaniment on mandolin or one-stringed violin, and Andrew conjured and juggled comically, using Bakkus as his dull-witted foil. A complete little performance, the patter and business artistically thought out and perfectly rehearsed. They wore the conventional Pierrot costume with whited faces and black skull caps.
Bakkus, familiar with English customs, had undertaken to attend to the business side of their establishment on the sands of the great West Coast resort, Andrew providing the capital out of his famous hundred louis. But it came almost imperceptibly to pass that Andrew made all the arrangements, drove the bargains and kept an accurate account of their varying finances.
"You'll never be a soldier of fortune, my dear fellow," said Bakkus once, when, returning homewards, he had wished to dip his hand into the leather bag containing the day's takings in order to supply himself lavishly with comforting liquid.
"It's the very last thing I want to be," replied Andrew, hugging the bag tight under his long arm.
"You're bourgeois to your finger-tips, your ideal of happiness is a meek female in a parlour and half a dozen food-sodden brats."
Andrew hunched his shoulders good-naturedly at the taunt. A home, and wife and offspring seemed rather desirable of attainment.
"You've lots of money in your pocket to pay for a drink," said he. "It's mere perversity that makes you want to touch the takings. We haven't counted them."
"Perversity is the only thing that makes this rotten life worth living," retorted Bakkus.
It was his perversity, thus exemplified, which compelled Andrew to constitute himself the business manager of the firm. He had a sedate, inexorable way with him, a grotesque dignity, to which, for all his gibes, Bakkus instinctively submitted. Bakkus might provide ideas, but it was the lank and youthful Andrew who saw to their rigid execution.
"You've no more soul than a Prussian drill sergeant," Bakkus would say.
"And you've no more notion of business than a Swiss Admiral," Andrew would reply.
"Who invented this elegant and disgustingly humiliating entertainment?"
Andrew would laugh and give him all the credit. But when Bakkus, in the morning, clamouring against insane punctuality, and demanding another hour's sloth, refused to leave his bed, he came up against an incomprehensible force, and, entirely against his will, found himself on the stroke of eleven ready to begin the performance on the sands. Sometimes he felt an almost irresistible desire to kick Andrew, so mild and gentle, with his eternal idiotic grin; but he knew in his heart that Andrew was not one of the idiots whom people kicked with impunity. He lashed him, instead, with his tongue, which Andrew, within limits, did not mind a bit. To Bakkus, however, Andrew owed the conception of their adventure. He also owed to him the name of the combination, and also the name which was to be professionally his for the rest of his stage career.
It all proceeded from the miraculous winning of the mare Elodie. Bakkus had made some indiscreet remark concerning her namesake. Andrew, quick in his dignity, had made a curt answer. Ironical Bakkus began to hum the old nursery song:
Il etait une bergere Et ron, ron, ron, petit patapon.
Suddenly he stopped.
"By George! I have it! The names that will epater the English bourgeois. Ron-ron-ron and Petit Patapon. I'll be Ron-ron-ron and you'll be dear little Patapon."
As the English seaside public, however, when he came to think of it, have never heard of the shepherdess who guarded her muttons and still less of the refrain which illustrated her history, he realized that the names as they stood would be ineffective. Ron-ron and Patapon therefore would they be. But Andrew, remembering Elodie's wise counsel, stuck to the "petit." His French instinct guiding him, he rejected Patapon. Bakkus found Ron-ron an unmeaning appellation. At last they settled it. They printed it out in capital letters.
THE GREAT PATAPON AND LITTLE PATOU
So it came to pass that a board thus inscribed in front of their simple installation on the sands advertised their presence.
Now, Lackaday in his manuscript relates this English episode, not so much as an appeal to pity for the straits to which he was reduced, although he winces at its precarious mountebankery, and his sensitive and respectable soul revolts at going round with the mendicant's hat and thanking old women and children for pennies, as in order to correlate certain influences and coincidences in his career. Elodie seems to haunt him. So he narrates what seems to be another trivial incident.
Andrew was a lusty swimmer. In the old circus summer days Ben Flint had seen to that. Whenever the Cirque Rocambeau pitched its tent by sea or lake, Ben Flint threw young Andrew into the water. So now every morning, before the world was awake, did Andrew go down to the sea. Once, a week after their arrival, did he, by some magnetic power, drag the protesting Bakkus from his bed and march him down, from the modest lodgings in a by-street, to the sea front and the bathing-machines. Magnetic force may bring a man to the water, but it can't make him go in. Bakkus looked at the cold grey water—it was a cloudy morning—took counsel with himself and, sitting on the sands, refused to budge from the lesser misery of the windy shore. He smoked the pipe of disquiet on an empty stomach for the half-hour during which Andrew expended unnecessary effort in progressing through many miles in an element alien to man. In the cold and sickly wretchedness of a cutting wind, he cursed Andrew with erudite elaboration. But when Andrew eventually landed, his dripping bathing-suit clinging close to his gigantic and bony figure, appearing to derisive eyes like the skin covered fossil of a prehistoric monster of a man, his bushy hair clotted, like ruddy seaweed, over his staring, ugly face, Bakkus forgot his woes and rolled on his back convulsed with vulgar but inextinguishable laughter.
"My God!" he cried later, when summoned by an angry Andrew to explain his impolite hilarity. "You're the funniest thing on the earth. Why hide the light of your frame under a bushel of clothing? My dear boy, I'm talking sense"—this was at a hitherto unfriendly breakfast-table—"You've got an extraordinary physique. If I laughed, like a rude beast, for which I apologize, the public would laugh. There's money in it. Skin tights and your hair made use of, why—you've got 'em laughing before you even begin a bit of business. Why the devil don't you take advantage of your physical peculiarities? Look here, don't get cross. This is what I mean."
He pulled out a pencil and, pushing aside plates and dishes, began to sketch on the table-cloth with his superficial artistic facility. Andrew watched him, the frown of anger giving way to the knitted brow of interest. As the drawing reached completion, he thought again of Elodie and her sage counsel. Was this her mental conception which he had been striving for years to realize? He did not find the ideal incongruous with his lingering sense of romance. He could take a humorous view of anything but his profession. That was sacred. Everything did he devote to it, from his soul to his skinny legs and arms. So that, when Bakkus had finished, and leaned back to admire his work, Andrew drew a deep breath, and his eyes shone as if he had received an inspiration from on High. He saw himself as in an apotheosis.
There he was, self-exaggeratingly true to life, inordinately high, inordinately thin, clad in tights that reached to a waistband beneath his armpits giving him miraculous length of leg, a low-cut collar accentuating his length of neck, his hair twisted up on end to a fine point.
"And I could pad the feet of the tights and wear high heels that would give me another couple of inches," he cried excitedly. "By Gum!" said he, clutching Bakkus's shoulder, a rare act of demonstrativeness, "what a thing it is to have imagination."
"Ah!" said Bakkus, "what a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!"
"What the devil do you mean?" asked Andrew.
Bakkus waved a hand towards the drawing.
"If only I had your application," said he, "I should make a great name as an illustrator of Hamlet."
"One of these days," said Andrew, the frown of anger returning to his brow, "I'll throw you out of the window."
"Provided it is not, as now, on the ground floor, you would be committing an act of the loftiest altruism."
Andrew returned to his forgotten breakfast, and poured out a cup of tepid tea.
"What would you suggest—just plain black or red—Mephisto—or stripes?"
He was full of the realization of the Elodesque idea. His brain became a gushing fount of inspiration. Hundreds of grotesque possibilities of business, hitherto rendered ineffective by flapping costume, appeared in fascinating bubbles. He thought and spoke of nothing else.
"Once I denied you the rank of artist," said Bakkus. "I retract. I apologize. No one but an artist would inflict on another human being such intolerable boredom."
"But it's your idea, bless you, which I'm carrying out, with all the gratitude in the world."
"If you want to reap the tortures of the damned," retorted Bakkus, "just you be a benefactor."
Andrew shrugged his shoulders. That was the way of Horatio Bakkus, perhaps the first of his fellow-creatures whom he had deliberately set out to study, for hitherto he had met only simple folk, good men and true or uncomplicated fools and knaves, and the paradoxical humour of his friend had been a puzzling novelty demanding comprehension; the first, therefore, who put him on the track of the observation of the twists of human character and the knowledge of men. That was the way of Bakkus. An idea was but a toy which he tired of like a child and impatiently broke to bits. Only a week before he had come to Andrew:
"My dear fellow, I've got a song. I'm going to write it, set it and sing it myself. It begins:—
I crept into the halls of sleep And watched the dreams go by.
I'll give you the accompaniment in a day or two and we'll try it on the dog. It's a damned sight too good for them—but no matter."
Andrew was interested. The lines had a little touch of poetry. He refrained for some time from breaking through the gossamer web of the poet's fancy. At last, however, as he heard nothing further, he made delicate enquiries.
"Song?" cried Bakkus. "What song? That meaningless bit of moonshine ineptitude I quoted the other day? I have far more use for my intellect than degrading it to such criminal prostitution."
Yes, he was beginning to know his Bakkus. His absorption in his new character was not entirely egotistic. Both his own intelligence and his professional experience told him that here, as he had worked out-the business in his mind, was an entirely novel attraction. In his young enthusiasm he saw hundreds crowding round the pitch on the sands. It was as much to Bakkus's interest as to his own that the new show should succeed. And even before he had procured the costume from Covent Garden, Bakkus professed intolerable boredom. He shrugged his shoulders. Bored or not, Bakkus should go through with it. So again under the younger man's leadership Bakkus led the strenuous life of rehearsal.
It took quite a day for their fame to spread. On the second day they attracted crowds. Money poured in upon them. Little Patou, like a double-tailed serpent rearing himself upright on his tail tips, appeared at first a creature remote, of some antediluvian race—until he talked a familiar, disarming patter with his human, disarming grin. The Great Patapon, contrary to jealous anticipation, saw himself welcomed as a contrast and received more than his usual meed of applause. This satisfied, for the time, his singer's vanity which he professed so greatly to despise. They entered on a spell of halcyon days.
The brilliant sunny season petered out in hopeless September, raw and chill. A week had passed without the possibility of an audience. Said Bakkus:
"Of all the loathsome spots in a noisome universe this is the most purulent. In order to keep up our rudimentary self-respect we have done our best to veil our personal identity as images of the Almighty from the higher promenades of the vulgar. Our sole associates have been the blatant frequenters of evil smelling bars. We've not exchanged a word with a creature approaching our intellectual calibre. I am beginning to conceive for you the bitter hatred that one of a pair of castaways has for the other; and you must regard me with feelings of equal abhorrence."
"By no means," replied Andrew. "You provide me with occupation, and that amuses me."
As the occupation for the dismal week had mainly consisted in dragging a cursing Bakkus away from public-house whisky on damp and detested walks, and in imperturbably manoeuvring him out of an idle—and potentially vicious—intrigue with the landlady's pretty and rather silly daughter, his reply brought a tragic scowl to Bakkus's face.
"There are times when I lie awake, inventing lingering deaths for you. You occupy yourself too much with my affairs. It's time our partnership in this degrading mountebankery should cease."
"Until it does, it's going to be efficient," said Andrew. "It's a come down for both of us to play on the sands and pass the hat round. I hate it as much as you do, but we've done it honourably and decently—and we'll end up in the same way."
"We end now," said Bakkus, staring out of their cheap lodging house sitting-room window at the dismal rain that veiled the row of cheap lodging houses opposite.
Andrew made a stride across the room, seized his shoulder and twisted him round.
"What about our bookings next month?"
For their success had brought them an offer of a month certain from a northern Palladium syndicate, with prospects of an extended tour.
"Dust and ashes," said Bakkus.
"You may be dust," cried Andrew hotly, "but I'm damned if I'm ashes."
Bakkus bit and lighted a cheap cigar and threw himself on the dilapidated sofa. "No, my dear fellow, if it comes to that, I'm the ashes. Dead! With never a recrudescent Phoenix to rise up out of them. You're the dust, the merry sport of the winds of heaven."
"Don't talk foolishness," said Andrew.
"Was there ever a man living who used his breath for any other purpose?"
"Then," said Andrew, "your talk about breaking up the partnership is mere stupidity."
"It is and it isn't," replied Bakkus. "Although I hate you, I love you. You'll find the same paradoxical sentimental relationship in most cases between man and wife. I love you, and I wish you well, my dear boy. I should like to see you Merry-Andrew yourself to the top of the Merry-Andrew tree. But for insisting on my accompanying you on that uncomfortable and strenuous ascent, without very much glory to myself, I frankly detest you."
"That doesn't matter a bit to me," said Andrew. "You've got to carry out your contract."
Bakkus sighed. "Need I? What's a contract? I say I am willing to perform vocal and other antics for so many shillings a week. When I come to think of it, my soul revolts at the sale of itself for so many shillings a week to perform actions utterly at variance with its aspirations. As a matter of fact I am tired. Thanks to my brain and your physical cooperation, I have my pockets full of money. I can afford a holiday. I long for bodily sloth, for the ragged intellectual companionship that only Paris can give me, for the resumption of study of the philosophy of the excellent Henri Bergson, for the absinthe that brings forgetfulness, for the Tanagra figured, broad-mouthed, snub-nosed shrew that fills every day with potential memories."
"Oh that's it, is it?" cried Andrew, with a glare in his usually mild eyes and his ugly jaw set. They had had many passages at arms. Bakkus's sophistical rhetoric against Andrew's steady common sense; and they had sharpened Andrew's wit. But never before had they come to a serious quarrel. Feeling his power he had hitherto exercised it with humorous effectiveness. But now the situation appeared entirely devoid of humour. He was coldly and sternly angry.
"That's the beginning and end of the whole thing? It all comes down to a worthless little Montmartroise? For a little thing of rien du tout, the artist, the philosopher, the English public school man will throw over his friend, his partner, his signed word, his honour? Mon Dieu! Well go—I can easily—No, I'll not say what I have in my mind."
Bakkus turned over on his side, facing his adversary, his under arm outstretched, the cigar in his fingers.
"I love to see youth perspiring—especially with noble rage. It does it good, discharges the black humours of the body. If I could perspire more freely I should be singing in Grand Opera."
"You can break your contract and I'll do without you," cried the furious Andrew.
"I'm not going to break the contract, my young friend," replied Bakkus, peering at him through lowered eyelids. "When did I say such a thing? We end the damp and dripping folly of the sands."
"We don't," said Andrew.
"As you will," said Bakkus. "Again I prophesy that you'll be drilling awkward squads in barrack yards before you've done. It's all you're fit for."
Andrew smiled or grinned with closed lips. It was his grim smile, many years afterwards to become familiar to larger bodies of men than awkward squads. Once more he had won his little victory.
So peace was made. They finished up the miserable fag end of the season and with modest success carried out their month's contract in the northern towns. But even Andrew's drastic leadership could not prevail on Bakkus's indolence to sign an extension. Montmartre called him. An engagement. He also spoke vaguely of singing lessons. Now that Parisians had returned to Paris, he could not afford to lose his connections. With cynical frankness he also confessed his disinclination to be recognized in a music-hall Punch and Judy show by his brother the Archdeacon.
"Archdeacons," said Andrew—he had a confused idea of their prelatical status, "don't go to music-halls."
"They do in this country," said Bakkus. "They're everywhere. They infest the air like microbes. You only have to open your mouth and you get your lungs filled with them. It's a pestilential country and I've done with it."
"All right," replied Andrew, "I'll run the show on my own."
But the Palladium syndicate, willing to book "The Great Patapon and Little Patou" for a further term, declined to rebook Little Patou by himself. He returned to Paris, where he found Bakkus wallowing in absinthe and philosophic sloth.
"We might have made our fortune in England," said he.
Said Bakkus coolly sipping his absinthe, "I have no desire to make my fortune. Have you?"
"I should like to make my name and a big position," replied Andrew.
"And I, my young friend? As the fag end of the comet's tail should I have made my name and a big position? Ah egotist! Egotist! Sublime egotist! The true artist using human souls as the rungs of his ladder! Well, go your ways. I have no reproach against you. Now that I'm out of your barrack square, my heart is overflowing with love for you. You have ever a friend in Horatio Bakkus. When you fall on evil days and you haven't a sou in your pocket, come to me—and you'll always find an inspiration."
"I wish you would give me one now," said Andrew, who had spent a fruitless morning at the Agence Moignon.
"You want a foil, an intelligent creature who will play up to you—a creature far more intelligent than I am. A dog. Buy a dog. A poodle."
"By Gum!" cried Andrew, "I believe you're right again."
"I'm never wrong," said Bakkus. "Garcon!" He summoned the waiter and waved his hand towards the little accusing pile of saucers. "Monsieur always pays for my inspirations."
We behold Petit Patou now definitely launched on his career. Why the execution of Bakkus's (literally) cynical suggestion should have met with instant success, neither he nor Andrew nor Prepimpin, the poodle, nor anyone under heaven had the faintest idea. Perhaps Prepimpin had something to do with it. He was young, excellently trained, and expensive. As to the methods of his training Andrew made no enquiries. Better not. But, brought up in the merciful school of Ben Flint, in which Billy the pig had many successors, both porcine and canine, he had expert knowledge of what kind firmness on the part of the master and sheer love on that of the animal could accomplish.
Prepimpin went through his repertoire with the punctilio of the barrack square deprecated by Bakkus.
"I buy him," said Andrew. "Viens, mon ami."
Prepimpin cast an oblique glance at his old master.
"Va-t-en," said the latter.
"Allons" said Andrew with a caressing touch on the dog's head.
Prepimpin's topaz eyes gazed full into his new lord's. He wagged the tuft at the end of his shaven tail. Andrew knelt down, planted his fingers in the lion shagginess of mane above his ears and said in the French which Prepimpin understood:
"We're going to be good friends, eh? You're not going to play me any dirty tricks? You're going to be a good and very faithful colleague?"
"You mustn't spoil him," said the vendor, foreseeing, according to his lights, possible future recriminations.
Andrew, still kneeling, loosed his hold on the dog, who forthwith put both paws on his shoulder and tried to lick the averted human face.
"I've trained animals since I was two years old, Monsieur Berguinan. Please tell me something that I don't know." He rose. "Alors, Prepimpin, we belong to each other. Viens."
The dog followed him joyously. The miracle beyond human explanation was accomplished, the love at first sight between man and dog.
Now, in the manuscript there is much about Prepimpin. Lackaday, generally so precise, has let himself go over the love and intelligence of this most human of animals. To read him you would think that Prepimpin invented his own stage business and rehearsed Petit Patou. As a record of dog and man sympathy it is of remarkable interest; it has indeed a touch of rare beauty; but as it is a detailed history of Prepimpin rather than an account of a phase in the career of Andrew Lackaday, I must wring my feelings and do no more than make a passing reference to their long and, from my point of view, somewhat monotonous partnership. It sheds, however, a light on the young manhood of this earnest mountebank. It reveals a loneliness ill-becoming his years—a loneliness of soul and heart of which he appears to be unconscious. Again, we have here and there the fleeting shadow of a petticoat. In Stockholm—during these years he went far afield—he fancies himself in love with one Vera Karynska of vague Mid-European nationality, who belongs to a troupe of acrobats. Vera has blue eyes, a deeply sentimental nature, and, alas! an unsympathetic husband who, to Andrew's young disgust depends on her for material support, seeing that every evening he and various other brutes of the tribe form an inverted pyramid with Vera's amazonian shoulders as the apex. He is making up a besotted mind to say, "Fly with me," when the Karinski troupe vanishes Moscow-wards and an inexorable contract drives him to Dantzic. In that ancient town, looking into the faithful and ironical eyes of Prepimpin, he thanks God he did not make a fool of himself.
You see, he succeeds. If you credited his modesty, you would think that Prepimpin made Petit Patou. Quod est absurdum. But the psychological fact remains that Andrew Lackaday needed some magnetic contact with another individuality, animal or human, to exhibit his qualities. There, in counselling splendid isolation, Elodie Figasso, the little Marseilles gutter fairy was wrong. She saw, clearly enough, that, subordinated to others, with no chance of developing his one personality he must fail. But she did not perceive—and poor child, how could she?—that given the dominating influence over any combination, even over one poodle dog, he held the key of success.
So we see him, the born leader, unconscious of his powers for lack of opportunity, instinctively craving their exercise for his own spiritual and moral evolution, and employing them in the benign mastery of the dog Prepimpin.
They were happy years of bourgeois vagabondage. At first he felt the young artist's soreness that, with the exception of rare, sporadic engagements, neither London nor Paris would have him. Once he appeared at the Empire, in Leicester Square, an early turn, and kept on breaking bits of his heart every day, for a week, when the curtain went down in the thin applause that is worse than silence.
"Prepimpin felt it," he writes, "even more than I did. He would follow me off, with his head bowed down and his tail-tuft sweeping the floor, so that I could have wept over his humiliation."
Why the great capitals fail to be amused is a perpetual mystery to Andrew Lackaday. Prepimpin and he give them the newest things they can think of. After weeks and weeks of patient rehearsal, they bring a new trick to perfection. It is the clou of their performance for a week's engagement at the Paris Folies-Bergere. After a conjuring act, he retires. Comes on again immediately, Petit Patou, apparently seven foot high, in the green silk tights reaching to the arm-pit waist, a low frill round his neck, his hair up to a point, a perpetual grin painted on his face. On the other side enters Prepimpin on hind legs, bearing an immense envelope. Petit Patou opens it—shows the audience an invitation to a ball.
"Ah! dress me, Prepimpin."
The dog pulls a hidden string and Petit Patou is clad in a bottle green dress-coat. Prepimpin barks and dances his delight.
"But nom d'un chien, I can't go to a ball without a hat."
Prepimpin bolts to the wings and returns with an opera hat.
"And a stick."
Prepimpin brings the stick.
"And a cigar."
Prepimpin rushes to a little table at the back of the stage and on his hind legs offers a box of cigars to his master, who selects one and lights it. He begins the old juggler's trick of the three objects. The dog sits on his haunches and watches him. There is patter in which the audience is given to understand that Prepimpin, who glances from time to time over the footlights, with a shake of his leonine mane, is bored to death by his master's idiocy. At last the hat descends on Petit Patou's head, the crook-handled stick falls on his arm, and he looks about in a dazed way for the cigar, and then he sees Prepimpin, who has caught it, swaggering off on his hind legs, the still lighted cigar in his mouth.
"No," writes Lackaday, "it was a failure. Poor Prepimpin and I left Paris with our tails between our legs. We were to start a tour at Bordeaux. 'Mon pauvre ami,' said I, on the journey—Prepimpin never suffered the indignity of a dog cage—'There is only one thing to be done. It is you who will be going to the ball and will juggle with the three objects, and I who will catch the cigar in my mouth.' But it was not to be. At Bordeaux and all through the tour we had a succes fou."