Thus Andrew washed his hands of Paris and London and going where he was appreciated roved the world in quiet contentment. He was young, rather scrupulously efficient within his limits, than ambitious, and of modest wants, sober habits, and of a studious disposition which his friendship with Horatio Bakkus had both awakened and stimulated. Homeless from birth he never knew the nostalgia which grips even the most deliberately vagrant of men. As his ultimate goal he had indeed a vague dream of a home with wife and children—one of these days in the future, when he had put by enough money to justify such luxuries. And then there was the wife to find. In a wife sewing by lamp-light between a red-covered round table and the fire, a flaxen haired cherub by her side—for so did his ingenuous inexperience picture domestic happiness—he required the dominating characteristic of angelic placidity. Perhaps his foster-mother and the comfort Ben Flint found in her mild and phlegmatic devotion had something to do with it.
In his manuscript he tries to explain—and flounders about in a psychological bog—that his ideal woman and his ideal wife are two totally different conceptions. The woman who could satisfy all his romantic imaginings was the Princesse Lointaine—the Highest Common Factor of the ladies I have already mentioned—Melisande, Phedre, Rosalind, Fedora, and Dora Copperfield—it is at this stage that he mentions them by name, having extended his literary horizon. Her he did not see sewing, in ox-eyed serenity, by a round table covered with a red cloth. With Her it was a totally different affair. It was a matter of spring and kisses and a perfect spiritual companionship.... As I have said, he gets into a terrible muddle. Anyhow, between the two conflicting ideals, he does not fall to the ground of vulgar amours. At the risk of tedium I feel bound to insist on this aspect of his life. For in the errant cosmopolitan world in which he, irresponsible and now well salaried bachelor had his being, he was thrown into the free and easy comradeship of hundreds of attractive women, as free and irresponsible as himself. He lived in a sea of temptation. On the other hand, I should be doing as virile a creature as ever walked a great wrong if I presented him to you under the guise of a Joseph Andrews. He had his laughter and his champagne and his kisses on the wing. But it was:
"We'll meet again one of these days."
"One of these days when our paths cross again."
And so—in effect—Bon soir.
It is difficult to compress into a page or two the history of several years. But that is what I have to do.
He is not wandering all the time over France, or flashing meteor-like about Europe. He has periods of repose, enforced and otherwise. But his position being ensured, he has no anxieties. Paris is his headquarters. He lives still in his old hotel meuble in the Faubourg Saint-Denis. But instead of one furnished room on the fifth floor, he can afford an apartment, salon, salle a manger, bedrooms, cabinet de toilette, on the prosperous second, which he retains all the year round. And Petit Patou can now stride through the waiting crowd in Moignon's antechamber and enter the sacred office, cigar in mouth, and with a "look here, mon vieux," put the fear of God into him. Petit Patou and Prepimpin, the idols of the Provinces, have arrived.
In Paris, when their presences coincide, he continues to consort with Bakkus, whose exquisite little tenor voice still affords him a means of livelihood. In fact Bakkus has had a renewed lease of professional activity. He sings at watering places, at palace hotels; which involves the physical activity which he abhors.
"Bound to this Ixion wheel of perpetual motion," says he, "I suffer tortures unimagined even by the High Gods. Compared with it our degrading experience on the sands seven years ago was a blissful idyll."
"By Gum!" says Andrew, "seven years ago. Who would have thought it?"
"Yes, who?" scowled the pessimist, now getting grey and more gaunt of blue, ill-shaven cheek. "To me it is seven aeons of Promethean damnation."
"To me it seems only yesterday," says Andrew.
"It's because you have no brain," says Bakkus.
But they are good friends. Away from Paris they carry on a fairly regular correspondence. Such of Bakkus's letters as Lackaday has kept and as I have read, are literary gems with—always—a perverse and wilful flaw ... like the man's life.
* * * * *
From Paris, after this particular meeting with Bakkus, Andrew once more goes on tour with Prepimpin. But a Prepimpin grown old, and, though pathetically eager, already past effective work. Nine years of strenuous toil are as much as any dog can stand. Rheumatism twinged the hind legs of Prepimpin. Desire for slumber stupefied his sense of duty. He could no longer catch the lighted cigar and swagger off with it in his mouth, across the stage.
"And yet, I'm sure," writes Lackaday, "that every time I cut his business, it nearly broke his heart. And it had come to Prepimpin's business being cut down to an insignificant minimum. I could, of course, have got another dog. But it would have broken his heart altogether. And one doesn't break the hearts of creatures like Prepimpin. I managed to arrange the performance, at last, so that he should think he was doing a devil of a lot...."
Then the end came. It was on the Bridge of Avignon, which, if you will remember, Lackaday superstitiously regards as a spot fraught with his destiny.
Fate had not taken him to the town since his last disastrous appearance. No one recognized in the Petit Patou of provincial fame the lank failure of many years ago. Besides, this time, he played not at the wretched music-hall without the walls, but at the splendid Palace of Varieties in the Boulevard de la Gare. He was a star—en vedette, and he had a dressing-room to himself. He stayed at the Hotel d'Europe, the famous hostelry by the great entrance gates. To avoid complication, he went everywhere now as Monsieur Patou. Folks passing by the open courtyard of the hotel where he might be taking the air, pointed him out to one another. "Le voila—Petit Patou"
It was in the middle of his week's engagement—once more in summer time. He lunched, saw to Prepimpin's meal, smoked the cheap cigar of content, and then, crossing the noisy little flagged square, went through the gates, Prepimpin at his heels, and made his way across the dusty road to the bridge. The work-a-day folk, on that week-day afternoon, had all returned to their hives in the town, and the pathways of the bridge contained but few pedestrians.
In the roadway, too, there was but lazy life, an occasional omnibus, the queer old diligence of Provence with its great covered hood in the midst of which sat the driver amid a cluster of peasants, hidden like the queen bee by the swarm, a bullock cart bringing hay into the city, a tradesman's cart, a lumbering wine waggon, with its three great white horses and great barrels. Nothing hurried in the hot sunshine. The Rhone, very low, flowed sluggishly. Only now and then did a screeching, dust-whirling projectile of a motor-car hurl itself across this bridge of drowsy leisure.
Andrew leaned over the parapet, finding rest in a mild melancholy, his thoughts chiefly occupied with the decay of Prepimpin who sat by his heels gazing at the roadway, occupied possibly by the same sere reflections. Presently the flea-catching antics of a ragged mongrel in the middle of the roadway disturbed Prepimpin's sense of the afternoon's decorum. He rose and with stiff dignity stalked towards him. He stood nose to nose with the mongrel, his tufted tail in straight defiance up in the air.
Then suddenly there was a rush and a roar and a yell of voices—and the scrunch of swiftly applied brakes. Andrew turned round and saw a great touring car filled with men and women—and the men were jumping out. And he saw a mongrel dog racing away for dear life. And then at last he saw a black mass stretched upon the ground. With horror in his heart he rushed and threw himself down by the dog's body. He was dead. He had solved the problem—solverat ambulando. Andrew heard English voices around him; he raised a ghastly face.
"You brutes, you have killed my dog."
He scarcely heard the explanations, the apologies. The dog seeing the car far off, had cleared himself. Then without warning he had flung himself suicidally in the path of the car. What could they do now by way of amends? The leader of the little company of tourists, a clean-shaven, florid man, obviously well bred and greatly distressed, drew a card from his pocket-book.
"I am staying a couple of days at the Hotel Luxembourg at Nimes—I know that nothing can pay for a dog one loves—but—"
"Oh, no, no, no," said Andrew waving aside the card.
"Can we take the dog anywhere for you?"
"You're very kind," said Andrew, "but the kindest thing is to leave me alone."
He bent down again and took Prepimpin in his arms and strode with him through the group of motorists and the little clamouring crowd that had gathered round. One of the former, a girl in a blue motor veil, ran after him and touched his arm. Her eyes were full of tears.
"It breaks my heart to see you like that. Oh can't I do anything for you?"
Andrew looked at her. Through all his stunning grief he had a dim vision of the Princesse Lointaine. He said in an uncertain voice:
"You have given me your very sweet sympathy. You can't do more."
She made a little helpless gesture and turned and joined her companions, who went on their way to Nimes. Andrew carried the bleeding body of Prepimpin, and there was that in his face which forbade the idle to trail indiscreetly about his path. He strode on, staring ahead, and did not notice a woman by the pylon of the bridge who, as he passed, gave a bewildered gasp, and after a few undecided moments, followed him at a distance. He went, carrying the dog, up the dirty river bank outside the walls, where there was comparative solitude, and sat down on a stone seat, and laid Prepimpin on the ground. He broke down and cried. For seven years the dog's life and his had been inextricably interwoven. Not only had they shared bed and board as many a good man and dog have done, but they had shared the serious affairs of life, its triumphs, its disillusions. And Prepimpin was all that he had to love in the wide world.
"Pardon, monsieur," said a voice.
He looked up and saw the woman who had followed him. She was dark, of the loose build of the woman predisposed to stoutness who had grown thin, and she had kind eyes in which pain seemed to hold in check the promise of laughter and only an animal wistfulness lingered. Her lips were pinched and her face was thin and careworn. And yet she was young—obviously under thirty. Her movements retained all the lissomeness of youth. Although dressed more or less according to the fashion of the year, she looked poor. Yet there was not so much of threadbare poverty in her attire, as lack of interest—or pathetic incongruity; the coat and skirt too heavy for the sultry day; the cheap straw hat trimmed with uncared for roses; the soiled white gloves with an unmended finger tip.
"Madame?" said he.
And as he saw it, the woman's face and form became vaguely familiar. He had seen her somewhere. But in the last few years he had seen thousands of women.
"You have had a great misfortune, monsieur?"
"That is true, madame."
She sat on the bench beside him.
"Vous pleurez. You must have loved him very much."
It was not a stranger speaking to him. Otherwise, he would have risen and, as politely as anguished nerves allowed, would have told her to go to the devil. She made no intrusion on his grief. Her voice fell with familiar comfort on his ear. He was vaguely conscious of her right to offer sympathy. He regarded her, grateful but perplexed.
"You don't recognize me? Enfin, why should you?" She shrugged her shoulders. "We only met for a few hours many years ago—here in Avignon—but we were good friends."
Then Andrew drew a deep breath and turned swiftly round on the bench and shot out both his hands.
"Mon Dieu! Elodie!"
She smiled sadly.
"Ah," said she, "I'm glad you remember."
They sat awhile and talked of the tragedy, the dead Prepimpin, at once a link and a barrier between them, lying at their feet. Her ready sympathy brought her near; but while the dog lay there, mangled and bloody, he could think of nothing else. It was Elodie who suggested immediate and decent burial. Why should he not go to the hotel for a workman and a spade?
He smiled. "You always seem to come to my help in time of trouble. But while I am absent, what will happen to him?"
"I will guard him, my friend," said Elodie.
He marched off. In a few minutes he came back accompanied by one of the hotel baggage porters. The grave, on the waste land by the Rhone, was quickly dug, and Prepimpin covered over for ever with the kindly earth. As soon as the body was hidden, Andrew turned away, the tears in his eyes.
"And now," said he, "let us sit somewhere else and you shall tell me about yourself. I have been selfish."
The tale she had to tell was very old and very sad. She did not begin it, however, until, drawing off her old gloves, for coolness' sake, she disclosed a wedding ring on her finger. His eye caught it at once.
"Why, you are married."
"Yes," she said, "I am married."
"You don't speak in the tone of a happy woman."
She shrugged hopeless shoulders. "A woman isn't happy with a goujat for a husband."
Now a goujat is a word for which scoundrel, and miscreant, are but weak translations. It denotes lowest depths of infamy.
Andrew frowned terribly. "He ill-treats you?"
"He did. But that is past. Fortunately I am alone. He has deserted me."
"Thank God, no," replied Elodie.
And then it all came out in the unrestrained torrent of the south. She had been an honest girl, in spite of a thousand temptations. When Andre met her, she was as pure as any young girl in a convent. It wasn't that she was ignorant. Oh no. The girl who had gone through the workrooms of Marseilles and the music-halls of France and could retain virginal innocence would be either a Blessed Saint or an idiot. It was knowledge that had kept her straight; knowledge and pride. She was not for sale. Grand Dieu, no! And love? If a man's love fell short of the desire for marriage, well, it didn't amount to a row of pins. Besides, even where there could be a love quite true without the possibility of marriage, she had seen enough of the world to know the unhappinesses that could happen to women. No. Andre must not think she was cold or prudish. She had set out to be merely reasonable. To Andre the girl's apology for preserving her chastity seemed perfectly natural. In her world it was somewhat of an eccentric feat.
"Et puis, enfin." And then, at last, came the conquering male, a singer in a light opera touring company in the chorus of which she was engaged. He was young, handsome—played secondary parts; one of the great ones, in fact, in her limited theatrical hierarchy. He fell in love with her. She, flattered, responded. Of course, he suggested setting up house together, then and there. But she had her aforesaid little principles. His infatuation, however, was such that he consented to run the terrific gauntlet of French matrimonial procedure. Why people in France go to the nerve-racking trouble of getting married Heaven only knows. Camels can gallop much more easily through needles' eyes. Anybody can be born in France, anybody can die; against these phenomena the form-multiplying and ream-writing Ad-min-is-tra-tion is powerless. But when you come to the intermediate business of world population, then bureaucracy steps in and plays the very devil. Elodie and Raoul Marescaux desired to be married. In England they would have got a special license, or gone to a registry office, and the thing would have been over. But in France, Monsieur and Madame Marescaux, and Madame Figasso, and the huissier Boudin, who insisted on coming forward although he was not legally united to Madame, and lawyers representing each family, were set all agog, and there were meetings and quarrels, and delays—Elodie had not a cent to her dowry—which of course was the stumbling-block—with the final result that nothing was done which might not have been done at once, namely, that the pair were doubly married—once by Monsieur le Maire and then by Monsieur le Cure.
For a few months she was happy. Then the handsome Raoul became enamoured of a fresh face. Then Elodie fell ill, oh, so ill, they thought she was going to die. And during her illness and slow recovery Raoul became enamoured of every fresh face he saw. A procession. If it had been one, said Elodie philosophically, she could perhaps have arranged matters. But they had been endless. And what little beauty she had her illness had taken away, so her only weapon was gone; and Raoul jeered at her and openly flaunted his infidelities in her presence. When she used beyond a certain point the ready tongue with which Providence had endowed her, she was soundly beaten. "Le goujat!" cried Andrew. Ah! It was a life of hell. But they had kept nominally together, in the same companies, she singing in the chorus, he playing his second roles. And then there came a day when he obtained an engagement in the Opera at Buenos Ayres. She was to accompany him. Her berth was booked, her luggage packed. He said to her, "I have to go away for a day or two on business. Meet me at the boat train for Havre on Wednesday." She went to the Gare St. Lazare on Wednesday to find that the boat train had gone on Tuesday. Un sale tour—eh? Did ever anyone hear of such a dirty trick? And later she learned that her berth was occupied by a little modiste of the Place de la Madeleine with whom he had run away.
That was two years ago. Since then she had not heard of him; and she wished never to hear of him again.
"And you have been supporting yourself all the time, on the stage?"
"Yes, I have lived. But it has been hard. My illness affected my voice. No one wants me very much. But still"—she smiled wanly—"I can manage. And now, you. I saw you yesterday at the Palace. They know me there and give me my entree. You have had a beau succes. You are famous. I am so glad."
Modestly he depreciated the fame, but acknowledged the success which was due to her encouragement. He told her of the racehorse Elodie and his lucky inspiration. For the first time she laughed and clapped her hands.
"Oh, I am flattered! Yes, and greatly touched. Now I know that you have remembered me. But if the horse had lost wouldn't you have pested against me? Say?"
Andrew replied soberly: "I could not possibly have lost. I knew it would win, just as I know that five minutes hence the sun will continue to shine. I had faith in your star, Elodie."
"My star—it's not worth very much, my star."
"It has been to me," said Andrew.
They talked on. By dint of questioning she learned most of his not over-eventful history. He told her of Horatio Bakkus, and of the season on the sands, when first he realized her original idea of exploiting his figure; of Prepimpin in his prime and their wanderings about Europe. And now alas! there was no longer a Prepimpin.
"But how will you give the performance this evening without him?" she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. He had not given a thought to that yet. It was the loss of his friend that wrung his heart.
"You are so gentle and sympathetic. Why is it that no woman has loved you?"
"Perhaps because I've not found a woman I could love," said he.
She did not pursue the subject, but sighed and looked somewhat drearily in front of her. It was then that he became aware of the cruel treatment that the years had inflicted on her youth. He knew that she was under thirty, yet she looked older. The colour had gone from her olive skin, leaving it sallow; her cheeks were drawn; haggard lines appeared beneath her eyes; her cheekbones and chin were prominent. It struck him that she might be fighting a hard battle against poverty. She looked underfed. He asked her.
"Have you an engagement here in Avignon?"
She shook her head. No, she was resting.
"How long have you been out?"
She couldn't tell. Many weeks. And prospects for the immediate future? The Tournee Tardieu was coming next Monday to Avignon. She knew the manager. Possibly he would give her a short engagement.
"And if he doesn't?"
"I will arrange," said Elodie with a show of bravery.
Andrew frowned again, and his mild blue eyes narrowed keenly. He stretched out his arm and put his delicate fingers on her hand.
"You have given me your help and sympathy. Do you refuse mine? Why does your pride forbid you to tell me that you are in great distress?"
"What would be the good?" she replied with averted face. "How could you help me? Money? Oh no. I would sooner fling myself in the river."
"You're talking foolishness," said he. "You know that you are in debt for your little room, and that the proprietaire won't let you stay much longer. You know that you have not sufficient food. You know that you have had nothing to-day but a bit of bread and a cup of coffee, if you have had that. Confess!"
The corners of her mouth worked pathetically. In spite of heroic effort, a sob came into her throat and tears into her eyes. Then she broke down and wept wretchedly.
Yes, it was true. She had but a few sous in the world. No other clothes but those she wore. Oh, she was ashamed, ashamed that he should guess. If she had not been weak, he would have gone away and never have known. And so on, and so forth. The situation was plain as day to Andrew. Elodie, if not his guardian angel, at any rate his mascot, was down and out. While she was crying, he slipped, unperceived, a hundred-franc note into the side pocket of her jacket. At all events she should have a roof over her head and food to eat for the next few days, until he could devise some plan for her future welfare. Her future welfare! For all his generous impulses, it gave him cause for cold thought. How the deuce could a wandering, even though successful, young mountebank assure the future of a forlorn and untalented young woman?
"Voyons, chere amie," said he comfortingly, "all is not yet lost. If the theatre does not give you a livelihood, we might try something else. I have my little savings. I could easily lend you enough to buy a petit commerce, a little business. You could repay me, bit by bit, at your convenience. Tiens! Didn't you tell me you were apprenticed to a dressmaker?"
But Elodie was hopeless. All that she had learned as a child she had forgotten. She was fit for nothing but posturing on the stage. If Andre could get her a good engagement, that was all the aid she would accept.
Andrew looked at his watch. The afternoon had sped with magical rapidity. He reflected that not only must he dine, but he must think over and rehearse the evening's performance with Prepimpin's part cut out. He dared not improvise before the public. He rose with the apologetic explanation—
"My little Elodie," said he, as they walked along the battlemented city walls towards the great gate, "have courage. Come to the Palace to-night. I will arrange that you shall have a loge. You only have to ask for it. And after my turn, you shall meet me, as long ago, at the Cafe des Negociants, and we shall sup together and talk of your affairs."
She meekly consented. And when they parted at the entrance to the Hotel d'Europe, he said:
"If I do not ask you to dine, it is because I have to think and work. You understand? But in your pocket you will find de quoi bien diner. Au revoir, chere amie."
He put out his hand. She held it, while her eyes, tragically large and dark, searched his with painful intensity.
"Tell me," she said, "is it better that I should come and see you to-night or that I should throw myself over the bridge into the Rhone?"
"If you meet me to-night," said Andrew, "you will still be alive, which, after all, is a very good thing."
"Je viendrai," said Elodie.
"The devil!" said Andrew, entering the courtyard of the hotel, and wiping a perspiring brow, "here am I faced with a pretty responsibility!"
Experience enabled him to give a satisfactory performance; and his manager prepared his path by announcing the unhappy end of Prepimpin and craving the indulgence of the audience. But Andrew passed a heartbroken hour at the music-hall. In his dressing-room were neatly stored the dog's wardrobe and properties—the gay ribbons, the harness, the little yellow silk hat which he wore with such a swaggering air, the little basket carried over his front paw into which he would sweep various objects when his master's back was turned, the drinking dish labelled "Dog" ... He suffered almost a human bereavement. And then, the audience, for this night, was kind. But, as conscientious artist, he was sensitively aware of makeshift. A great element of his success lay in the fact that he had trained the dog to appear the more clever of the two, to score off his pretended clumsiness and to complete his tricks. For years he had left uncultivated the art of being funny by himself. Without Prepimpin he felt lost, like a man in a sculling race with only one oar. He took off his make-up and dressed, a very much worried man. Of course he could obtain another trained dog without much difficulty, and the special training would not take long; but he would have to love the animal in order to establish that perfect partnership which was essential to his performance. And how could he love any other dog than Prepimpin? He felt that he would hate the well-meaning but pretentious hound. He went out filled with anxieties and repugnances.
Elodie was waiting for him by the stage door. She said:
"You got out of the difficulty marvellously."
"But it was nothing like the performance you saw yesterday."
"Ah non" she replied frankly.
"Voila," said he, dejectedly.
They walked, almost in silence, along the Avenue de la Gare, thronged, as it was at the time of their first meeting, with the good citizens of Avignon, taking the air of the sultry summer evening. She told him afterwards that she felt absurdly small and insignificant trotting by the side of his gaunt height, a feeling which she had not experienced years before when their relative positions were reversed. But now she regarded him as a kind of stricken god; and womanlike she was conscious of haggard face and shrunken bosom, whereas before, she had stepped beside him proud of the ripe fulness of her youth.
Whither the commonplace adventure was leading them neither knew. For his part pity compelled superstitious sentiment to the payment, in some vague manner, of a long-standing obligation. She had also given him very rare sympathy that afternoon, and he was grateful. But things ended there, in a sort of blind alley.
For her part, she let herself go with the current of destiny into which, by strange hazard, she had drifted. She had the humility which is the fiercest form of pride. Although she clung desperately to him, as to the spar that alone could save her from drowning, although the feminine within her was drawn to his kind and simple manliness, and although her heart was touched by his grief at the loss of the dog, yet never for a moment did she count upon the ordinary romantic denouement of such a situation. The idea came involuntarily into her mind. Into the mind of what woman of her upbringing would not the idea come? But she banished it savagely. Who was she, waste rag of a woman, to attract a man? And even had she retained the vivid beauty and plenitude of her maidenhood, it would have been just the same. Elodie Figasso had never sold herself. No. All that side of things was out of the question. She wished, however, that he was less of an enigmatic, though kindly, sphinx.
Over their modest supper of sandwiches and Cotes du Rhone wine, in an inside corner of the Cafe des Negociants—it was all the cafe could offer, and besides she swore to a plentiful dinner—they discussed their respective forlorn positions. Adroitly she tacked away from her own concerns towards his particular dilemma. If he shrank from training another dog and yet distrusted a solo performance, what was he going to do? Take a partner like his friend—she forgot the name—yes, Bakkus, on whom perhaps he couldn't rely, and who naturally would demand half his salary?
"Never again," Andrew declared, feeling better after a draught of old Hermitage. "The only thing I can think of is to engage a competent assistant."
Then Elodie's swift brain conceived a daring idea.
"You would have to train the assistant."
"Of course. But," he added in a dismal tone, "most of the assistants I have seen are abysmally stupid. They are dummies. They give nothing of themselves, for the performer to act up to."
"In fact," said Elodie, trying hard to steady her voice, "you want someone entirely in sympathy with you, who can meet you half-way—like Prepimpin."
"Precisely," said Andrew. "But where can I find a human Prepimpin?"
She abandoned knife and fork and, with both arms resting on the table, looked across at him, and it suddenly struck him that her great dark eyes, intelligent and submissive, were very much like the eyes of Prepimpin. And so, womanlike, she conveyed the Idea from her brain to his.
He said very thoughtfully, "I wonder—"
"What have you done on the stage? What can you do? Tell me. Unfortunately I have never seen you."
She could sing—not well now, because her voice had suffered—but still she sang true. She had a musical ear. She could accompany anyone on the piano, pas trop mal. She could dance. Oh, to that she owed her first engagement. She had also learned to play the castagnettes and the tambourine, a l'Espagnole. And she was accustomed to discipline.... As she proceeded with the unexciting catalogue of her accomplishments she lost self-control, and her eyes burned and her lips quivered and her voice shook in unison with the beatings of a desperately anxious heart. Our Andrew, although an artist dead set on perfection and a shrewd man of business, was young, pitiful and generous. The pleading dog's look in Elodie's eyes was too much for him. He felt powerless to resist. His brain worked swiftly, devising all kinds of artistic possibilities. Besides, was not Fate accomplishing itself by presenting this solution of both their difficulties?
"I wonder whether you would care to try the experiment?"
With an effort of feminine duplicity she put on a puzzled and ingenuous expression.
He was somewhat taken aback: surely he must have misinterpreted her pleading. From the dispenser of fortune, he became the seeker of favours.
"I know it's not much of a position to offer you," said he, almost apologetically, "but if you care to accept it——"
"Of your assistant?" she asked, as though the idea had never entered her head.
"Why, yes. If you will consent to a month of very hard work. You would have to learn a little elementary juggling. You would have to give me instantaneous replies in act and speech. But if you would give yourself up to me I could teach you."
"But, mon pauvre Andre," she said, with an astonished air, "this is the last thing I ever dreamed of. I am so ignorant. I should put you to shame."
"Oh no, you wouldn't," said he, confidently. "I know my business. Wait. Les affaires sont les affaires. I should have to give you a little contract. Let us see. For the remainder of my tour—ten weeks—ten francs a day with hotel en pension and railway fares."
To Elodie, independent waif in theatre-land, this was wealth beyond her dreams. She stretched both hands across the table.
"Do you mean that? It is true? And, if I please you, you will keep me always?"
"Why not?" said Andrew. "And, if you show talent, we may come to a better arrangement for the next tour."
"And if I show no talent at all?"
He made a deprecating gesture and grinned in his charming way. But Elodie's intuition taught her that there was the stern purpose of a man behind the grin. She had imposed her helplessness on him this once. But if she failed him she would not have, professionally, a second chance.
"I insist on your having talent," said Andrew.
The walk home to her dingy lodgings repeated itself. She felt very humble yet triumphant. More than ever did she regard him as a god who had raised her, by a touch, from despair and starvation to hope and plenty, and in her revulsion of gratitude she could have taken both his hands and passionately kissed them. And yet she was proudly conscious of something within her, unconquerably feminine, which had touched his godship and wrought the miracle.
They halted in the narrow, squalid street, before the dark entry of the house where she lodged. Andrew eyed the poverty-stricken hole in disgust. Obviously she had touched the depths.
"To-morrow you must move," said he. "I shall arrange a room for you at the hotel. We shall have much business to discuss. Can you be there at ten o'clock?"
"Whatever you say shall be done," she replied humbly.
He put out his hand.
"Good-night, Elodie. Have courage and all will be well."
She murmured some thanks with a sob in her voice and, turning swiftly, disappeared up the evil-smelling stone stairs. The idea of kissing her did not occur to him until he found himself alone and remembered the pretty idyll of their leave-taking long ago. He laughed, none too gaily. Between boy and girl and man and woman there was a vast difference.
That was the beginning of the combination known a little while afterwards as Les Petit Patou. Elodie, receptive, imitative, histrionic, showed herself from the start an apt pupil. To natural talent she added the desire, born of infinite gratitude, to please her benefactor. She possessed the rare faculty of perfect surrender. Andrew marvelled. Had he hypnotized her she could not have more completely executed his will. And yet she was no automaton. She was artist enough to divine when her personality should be effaced and when it should count. She spoke her patter with intelligent point. She learned, thanks to Andrew's professional patience, and her own vehement will, a few elementary juggling tricks. Andrew repeated the famous Prepimpin cigar-act. Open-mouthed, Elodie followed his manipulations. When he threw away the cigar it seemed to enter her mouth quite naturally, against her will. She removed it with an expression of disgust and hurled it at Andrew, who caught it between his lips, smoked it for a second or two and grinned his thanks. With a polite gesture he threw it, as the audience thought, back to her; but by a sleight-of-hand trick the cigar vanished and she caught, to her delighted astonishment, a pearl necklace, which, as she clasped it round her neck, vanished likewise. After which he overwhelmed her with disappearing jewels. At once it became a popular item in their entertainment.
In the course of a few months he swore she was worth a hundred Prepimpins. He could teach her anything. By the end of the year he evolved the grotesque performance that made Les Petit Patou famous in provincial France, brought them for a season to Paris at the Cirque Medrano, to London (for a week) at the Hippodrome, to the principal cities of Italy, and doubled and trebled the salary which he enjoyed as Petit Patou all alone with the dog.
Meanwhile it is important to note a very swift physical change in Elodie. When a young woman, born to plumpness, is reduced by misery to skin and bone, a short term of succulent nourishment and absence of worry, will suffice to restore her to a natural condition. She had no beauty, save that of her dark and luminous eyes and splendid teeth. Her features were coarse and irregular. Her uncared for skin gave signs of future puffiness. But still—after two or three happy months, she more or less regained the common attractiveness and the audacious self-confidence of the Marseilles gamine who had asked him to kiss her long ago.
Thus, imperceptibly, she became less an assistant than a partner, less a paid servant on the stage than a helpmeet in his daily life. Looking at the traditions of their environment and at the enforced intimacy of their vagabondage, one sees the inevitability of this linking of their fortunes. That there was any furious love about the affair I have very grave doubts. Andrew in his secret soul still hankered after the Far-away Princess, and Elodie had spent most of her passionate illusions on the unspeakable Raoul. But they had a very fair basis of mutual affection to build upon. Philosophers will tell you that such is the basis of most happy marriages. You can believe them or not, as you please. I am in no position to dogmatise.... At any rate Les Petit Patou started off happily. If Elodie was not the perfect housewife, you must remember her upbringing and her devil-may-care kind of theatrical existence. Andrew knew that hers were not the habits of the Far-away One, who like himself would be a tidy soul, bringing into commonplace tidiness an exquisitely harmonious sense of order; but the Far-away One was a mythical being endowed with qualities which it would be absurd to look for in Elodie. Besides, their year being mainly spent in hotels, she had little opportunity of cultivating housewifely qualities. If she neglected the nice conduct of his underlinen after the first few months of their partnership, he could not find it in his heart to blame her. Professional work was tiring. Her own clothes needed her attention. But still, the transient comfort had been very agreeable.... In Paris, too, at first she had played at house-keeping in the apartment of the Faubourg Saint-Denis. But Elodie did not understand the bonne, and the bonne refused to understand Elodie in the matter of catering, and they emphasized their mutual misunderstanding with the unrestrained speech of children of the people. Once or twice Andrew went hungry. In his sober and dignified way he drew Elodie's attention to his unusual condition. It led to their first quarrel. After that they ate, very comfortably, at a little restaurant round the corner.
It was not the home life of which Andrew had dreamed—not even the reincarnation of Madame Flint sitting by the round table darning socks by the light of the shaded lamp. Elodie loathed domestic ideals.
"Mon vieux," she would declare, "I had enough sewing in my young days. My idea of happiness would be a world without needles and thread."
He noted in her, too, a curious want of house-pride. Dust gave her no great concern. She rather loved a litter of periodicals, chiffons, broken packets of cigarettes, tobacco and half-eaten fruit on the tables. A picture askew never attracted her attention. To remain in the house, dressed in her out-of-door clothes, seemed to her vain extravagance and discomfort. A wrapper and slippers, the more soiled and shapeless the better, were the only indoor wear. Andrew deplored her lack of literary interest. She would read the feuilletons of the Petit Journal and the Matin in a desultory fashion; but she could not concentrate her mind on the continuous perusal of a novel. She spent hours over a pack of greasy cards, telling her fortune by intricate methods. The same with music; though in this case she had a love for it in the open air when a band was playing, and was possessed of a natural ear, and could read easy pieces and accompaniments at sight with some facility. But she would never try to learn anything difficult; would never do more than strum a popular air or two until swift boredom paralysed her nerves.
Yet, for all her domestic slatternness, the moment she emerged from private into professional life, her phlegmatic indolence was transformed into quick energy. No rehearsal wearied her. Into every performance she concentrated the whole of her being. If it were a question of mastering a grotesque accompaniment to a new air on Andrew's one-string fiddle, she would slave for hours until it was perfect. She kept her stage costume in scrupulous repair. Her make-up box was a model of tidiness. She would be late for lunch, late for dinner, late for any social engagement, but never once was she late for a professional appointment. On the stage her loyalty to Andrew never wavered. No man could have a more ideal co-worker. She never lost her head, demanded a more prominent position, or grudged him the lion's share of the applause. In her praiseworthy lack of theatrical vanity, writes Lackaday, by way of encomium, she was unique among women. A pearl of great price.
Also, when they walked abroad, she dressed with neatness. Her hair, a stringy bush at home, appeared a miracle of coiffure. Lips and eyes received punctilious attention. The perfection of her high-heeled shoes was a matter of grave concern. Whatever may have been underneath, the outside of her toilette received anxious care. She thought much of externals. Andrew came within her purview. She did her best to remodel his outer man more in accordance with his prosperity; but what woman can have sartorial success with the man who is the tailor's despair?
Lackaday is pathetically insistent on her manifold virtues. She retains all through the years her street-child's swift intelligence. She has flair. She predicts instinctively the tastes of varying audiences. She has a vivid imagination curiously controlled by the most prosaic common sense. He rarely errs in taking her advice.... To her further credit balance, she is more saving than extravagant. Bits of jewellery please her, but she does not crave inordinate adornment. When he buys a touring-car for the greater comfort of their vagrant life, she is appalled by the cost and upbraids him with more than a touch of shrewishness. Her tastes do not rise with her position. She would sooner have a chou-croute garnie than a fore-quarter of Paris lamb or a duck a la presse. She could never understand why Andrew should pay four or five francs for a bottle of wine, when they could buy a good black or grey for three sous a litre. On tour gaieties were things unthought of. But during periods of rest, in Paris, she cared little for excitement. With an income relieving her from the necessity of work, she would have been content to lounge slipshod about the house till the day of her death.
Once Andrew, having to entertain, for politic reasons, the director of a Paris music-hall, took her to the Cafe de Paris. The guest, in a millionaire way, had suggested that resort of half-hungry wealth. Modest Andrew had never entered such a place in his life; nor, naturally, had Elodie. Knowing, however, that one went there in full dress, he disinterred a dress-suit which he had bought three years before in order to attend the funeral of a distinguished brother artist, and sent Elodie with a thousand-franc note to array herself in an adequate manner, at the Galeries La Fayette. Elodie's economical soul shrank in horror from the expenditure, at one fell swoop, of a thousand francs. She bought God knows what for less than half the money.
Proud of her finery, secretly exulting also that she had a matter of twenty pounds or so put away in her private stocking, she flaunted down the crowded restaurant, followed by the little fat director, only remarkable for a diamond flash-light in his shirt-front, and by Andrew, inordinately long and gawky, in his ill-fitting, short-sleeved evening suit, his ready made white tie already wandering in grievance towards a sympathetic ear. Women in dreams of diaphanous and exiguous raiment stared derisively at the trio as they passed their tables. Elodie stared back at them. Now, Lackaday, honest soul, had, not the remotest notion of what was wrong with her attire. In his eyes she was dressed like a queen. She wore, says he, a beautiful emerald green dress, and a devil of a hat with a lot of dark blue feathers in it. But, as she was surrendering her cloak to the white-capped lady of the vestiare, there came from a merry adjoining table the clear-cut remark of a young woman, all bare arms, back and bosom, but otherwise impeccably vestured:
"They oughtn't to allow it, in a place like this—des grues des Batignolles."
Unsuccessful ladies of easy virtue from Whitechapel, perhaps, is the nearest rendering of the phrase.
Elodie had quick ears. She also had the quick temper and tongue of Marseilles. She hung behind the two men, who proceeded to their table unconscious of drama.
"In these places," she spat, "they pay naked women like you to come to attract men. You fear the competition of the modest, ma fille."
The indiscreet young woman had no retort. She flushed crimson over neck and shoulders, while Elodie, triumphant, swept away. But the ensuing dinner was not an exhilarating meal. She burned with the insult, dilated upon it, repeated over and over again her repartee, offered her costume to the frank criticism of Andrew and their guest. Did she look like a grue? Did her toilette in any way suggest the Batignolles? In vain did the fat director proclaim her ravishing. Andrew, at first indignant, assured her that the insulter had been properly set down. If it had been a man, he would have lifted the puppy from his chair and beaten him before the whole restaurant. But a woman! She had met her match in Elodie. In vain he confirmed the director's opinion. Elodie could not eat. Food stuck in her throat; she could only talk interminably of the outrage. The little fat director made his escape as soon as he had eaten the last mouthful of dinner.
"Eh bien," said Elodie, as they were driving home to the Faubourg Saint-Denis, "and is it all fixed up, the Paris contract?"
"My dear," replied Andrew gently, "you gave us little chance to discuss it."
"I prevented you?" cried Elodie. "I? Bon Dieu! Oh no. It is too much. You first take me to a place where I am insulted, and then reproach me for being an obstacle between you and your professional success. No doubt the naked woman would be a better partner for you. She could wheedle and coax that little horror of a manager. I, who am an honest woman, am a drag on you—"
And so on, with a whirling unreason, with which Andrew had grown familiar. But the episode of the Cafe de Paris marks the beginning and the end of Elodie's acquaintance with the smart world. She hates it with a fierce jealousy, knowing that it is a sphere beyond her ken. Herein lay a fundamental principle of her character. The courtesan, with her easy adaptability to the glittering environment which she craves, and Elodie, essentially child of the people, proud, and virtuous according to her lights, were worlds apart. A bit of a socialist, Elodie, she stuck fiercely to her class. People she was. People she would remain. A daw of the people, she had tried to peacock it among the gentry. She had been detected in her borrowed plumes. At the stupid reference to her supposed morals she snapped her fingers. It was idiotic. It was the detection of the plumage that rankled in her soul. From that moment she hated society and every woman in it with an elaborate ostentation. The very next day she sold the emerald green dress and the devil of a hat and, with a certain grim satisfaction, stuffed the proceeds into the stocking of economy. In spite of the disastrous dinner, Andrew obtained the Paris engagement. He was not, however, greatly surprised—so far had his education advanced—when Elodie claimed the credit.
"At that dinner—what did you do? You sat silent as the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde. It was I who made all the conversation. Monsieur Wolff was very enchanted."
"I don't know what I should do without you, Elodie," said he.
Now, in sketching the life of Andrew Lackaday and Elodie, I again labour under the difficulty of having to compress into a few impressionistic strokes the history of years. The task is in one way made easier, in that these years of work and wandering scarcely show the development of anything. What was true at the end of the first year of their partnership seems to be true at the end of the second, third, fourth and fifth. After a time when their grotesque performance was a fixed and settled thing, there was little need for the invention of novelty or for rehearsal. Week after week, month after month, year after year, they reproduced their almost stereotyped entertainment. Here and there, according to the idiosyncrasy of the audience, they introduced some variety. But the very variations, in course of time, became stereotyped. Too violent a change proved disastrous. The public demanded the particular antics with which the name of Les Petit Patou was identified. Thus life was reduced to terms of beautiful simplicity.
Yet, perhaps, after all, their sentimental relations did undergo an imperceptible development, as subtle as that which led in the first place to their union. This union had its original promptings in a not unromantic chain of circumstances. Of vulgarity or sordidness it had nothing. Had Elodie been free it would never have entered Andrew's head not to marry her, and she would have married him offhand. Lackaday insists on our remembering this vital fact. Sincere affection drew them together. Then the first couple of years or so were devoted to mutual discoveries. There was no question on either part of erring after strange fancies. Elodie carried her air of propriety in the happy-go-lucky music-hall world almost to the point of the absurd. As for Andrew, he had ever shown himself the most lagging Lothario of his profession. Indeed, for a period during which she suffered an exaggeration of her own sentiments, she upbraided him for not being the perfect lover of her half-forgotten dreams....
"Why don't you love me any longer, Andre?"
"But I love you, surely. That goes without saying."
"Then why do you go on reading, reading all the time instead of telling me so?"
She would be lying on a couch, dressed in her soiled wrapper and old bedroom slippers, occupied with nothing but boredom, while Andrew devoted himself to the unguided pursuit of knowledge, the precious pleasure of his life. He would put the book face downwards on his knee and pucker his brows.
"Mon Dieu, ma cherie, what do you want me to say?"
"That you love me."
"I've just said it."
"Say it again."
"Je l'aime bien. Voila!"
"And that's all?"
"Of course it's all. What remains to be said?"
The honest fellow was mystified. He could not keep on repeating the formula for the two or three hours of their repose. It would be the monotonous reiteration of the idiot. And he could no more have knelt by her side and poured out his adoration in the terms, let us say, of Chastelard, than he could have lectured her on Hittite inscriptions. What did she want?
She sighed. He cared for his old book much more than for her.
"My dear," said he, "if you would only read a bit you would find it a great comfort and delight."
You see, at this rather critical period, each had their grievance—Elodie only, of course, as far as their private lives were concerned. Elodie, somewhat romantically inclined, wanted she knew not what. Perhaps a recrudescence of the fine frenzy of the early days of her marriage with Raoul. Sober Andrew craved some kind of intellectual companionship. If Elodie grudged him the joy of books and he yielded to her resentment, he was a lost mountebank. And the very devil of it was that, just at this time, he had discovered the most fascinating branch of literature imaginable. Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, picked up in a cheap edition, had put him on the track. He procured Kinglake's Crimea. He was now deep in the study of Napier's Peninsular War. He studied it, pencil in hand and notebook by his side, filled with diagrams and contours of country and little parallelograms all askew denoting Army Corps or divisions. Of course, he did not expect Elodie to interest herself in military history, but he deplored her unconcealed hatred of his devotion to a darling pursuit. Why could not she find pleasure in some intelligent occupation? To spend one's leisure in untidy sloth did not consort with the dignity of a human being. Why didn't she do this or that? She rejected all suggestions. Retorted: Why couldn't he spend a few hours in relaxation like everybody else? If only he would go and play billiards at the cafe. That he should amuse himself outside among men was only natural. Sitting at home, in her company, over a book, got on her nerves.
Horatio Bakkus encouraged her maliciously. In Paris he made the flat in the Faubourg Saint-Denis his habitual resting-place, and ate his meals in their company at the cafe round the corner.
"If there is one thing, my dear Elodie, more futile than fighting battles, it is reading about them," he declared at one of their symposia.
"Voila! You hear what Horace says! An educated man who knows what he is talking about."
"It's a kind of disease, like chess or the study of the Railway Guide. And when he prefers it to the conversation of a beautiful and talented woman, it's worse than a disease, it's a crime. My dear fellow," he cried with an ironical gleam in his dark eyes, "you're blind to the treasure the gods have given you. Any ass can write a text-book, but the art of conversation is a gift bestowed by Heaven upon the very few."
Elodie, preening herself, asked:
"Is it true that I have that gift?"
"You have the flow of words. You have wit. You talk like a running brook. You talk like no book that ever was written. I would sooner, my dear, listen to the ripple of your speech than read all the manuals of military science the world has produced."
Andrew saw her flattered to fluttering point.
"Don't you know that he is the greatest blagueur an existence?" he asked.
But Elodie had fallen under the spell of Bakkus. like him she loved talk, although her education allowed her only the lightest kind. She loved its give-and-take, its opportunities for the flash of wit or jest. Bakkus could talk about an old boot. She too. He could analyse sentiment in his mordant way. She could analyse it in her own unsophisticated fashion. Now Andrew, though death on facts and serious argument, remained dumb and bewildered in a passage-at-arms about apparently nothing at all; and while Bakkus and Elodie enjoyed themselves prodigiously, he gaped at them, wondering what the deuce they found to laugh at. He was for ever warning Elodie not to put a too literal interpretation on Bakkus's sayings.
The singer had gone grey, and that touch of venerability gave him an air of greater distinction, as a broken down tragedian, than he possessed when Andrew had first met him ten years or so before. Elodie could bandy jests with him, but when he spoke with authority she listened overawed.
"My dear Andre," she replied to his remark. "I am not a fool. I know when Horace is talking nonsense and when he means what he says."
"And I maintain," said Bakkus, "that this most adorable woman is being sacrificed on the altar of Caesar's Commentaries and the latest French handbook on scientific slaughter."
"I think," said Andrew, who had imprudently sketched his course of reading to the cynic, "that The Art of War by Colonel Foch is the most masterly thing ever written on the subject of warfare."
"But who is going to war, these days, my good fellow?"
"They're at it now," said Andrew.
"The Balkans—Turkey—Bulgaria? Barbarians. What's that got to do with civilized England and France?"
"What about Germany?"
"Germany's never going to sacrifice her commercial position by going to war. Among great powers war is a lunatic anachronism."
"Oh, mon Dieu," cried Elodie, "now you're talking politics."
Bakkus took her hand which held a fork on which was prodded a gherkin—they were at lunch—and raised it to his lips.
"Pardon, chere madame. It was this maniac of an Andre. He is mad or worse. Years ago I told him he ought to be a sergeant in a barrack square."
"Just so!" cried Elodie. "Look at him now. Here he is as soft as two pennyworth of butter. But in the theatre, if things do not go quite as he wants them—oh la la! It is Right turn—Quick march! Brr! And I who speak have to do just the same as the others."
"I know," said Bakkus. "A Prussian without bowels. Ah, my poor Elodie! My heart bleeds for you."
"Where do you keep it—that organ?" asked Andrew.
"He keeps it," retorted Elodie, "where you haven't got it. Horace understands me. You don't. Horace and I are going to talk. You smoke your cigar and think of battles and don't interfere."
It was said laughingly, so that Andrew had no cause for protest; but beneath the remark ran a streak of significance. She resented the serious tone at which Andrew had led the conversation. He and his military studies and his war of the future! They bored her to extinction. She glanced at him obliquely. A young man of thirty, he behaved himself like the senior of this youthful, flashing, elderly man who had the gift of laughter and could pluck out for her all that she had of spontaneity in life.
This conversation was typical of many which filled Elodie's head with an illusion of the brilliant genius of Horatio Bakkus. In spite of her peevishness she had a wholesome respect for Andrew—for his honesty, his singleness of purpose, his gentle masterfulness. But, all the same, their common detection of the drill-sergeant in his nature formed a sympathetic bond between Bakkus and herself. In the back of her mind, she set Andrew down as a dull dog. For all his poring over books, Bakkus could defeat him any day in argument. The agreeable villain's mastery of phrase fascinated her. And what he didn't know about the subtle delicacies of women's temperament was not worth knowing. She could tell him any thing and count on sympathy; whereas Andrew knew less about women than about his poodle dog.
There was, I say, this mid-period of their union when they grew almost estranged. Andrew, in spite of his loyalty, began to regret. He remembered the young girl who had rushed to him so tearfully as he was bending over the body of Prepimpin—the flashing vision of the women of another world. In such a one would he find the divine companionship. She would stand with him, their souls melting together in awe before the majesty of Chartres, in worship before the dreaming spires of Rheims, in joy before the smiling beauty of Azay-le-Rideau. They would find a world of things to say of the rugged fairyland of Auvergne or the swooning loveliness of the Cote d'Azur. They would hear each other's heart beating as they viewed great pictures, their pulses would throb together as they listened to great opera. He would lie at her feet as she read the poets that she loved. She would also take an affectionate interest in military strategy. She would be different, oh, so different from Elodie. To Elodie, save for the comfort of inns, the accommodation of dressing-rooms and the appreciation of audiences, one town was exactly the same as another. She found amusement in sitting at a cafe with a glass of syrup and water in front of her, and listening to a band; otherwise she had no aesthetic sense. She used terms regarding cathedrals and pictures for which boredom is the mildly polite euphemism. A busy street gay with shop windows attracted her far more than any grandeur of natural scenery. She loved displays of cheap millinery and underwear. Andrew could not imagine the Other One requiring his responsive ecstasy over a fifteen-franc purple hat with a green feather, or a pile of silk stockings at four francs fifty a pair ... The Other One, in a moment of delicious weakness, might stand enraptured before a dream of old lace or exquisite tissue or what not, and it would be his joy to take her by the hand, enter the shop and say "It is yours." But Elodie had no such moments. Her economical habits gave him no chance of divine extravagance. Even when he took her in to buy the fifteen-franc hat, she put him to shame by trying to bargain.
So they lost touch with each other until a bird or two brought them together again. Figuratively it is the history of most unions. In theirs, the birds were corporeal. It was at Montpellier. An old man had a turn with a set of performing birds, canaries, perroquets, love-birds, beauregards. Elodie came across him rehearsing on the stage. She watched the rehearsal fascinated. Then she approached the cages.
"Faites attention, Madame," cried the old man in alarm. "You will scare them. They know no one but me."
"Mais non, mais non," said Elodie. "Voyons, ca me connait."
She spoke from idle braggadocio. But when she put her hands on the cages, the birds came to her. They hopped about her fearlessly. She fished in her pockets for chocolate—her only extravagant vice—and bird after bird pecked at the sweet from her mouth. The old man said:
"Truly the birds know you, Madame. It is a gift. No one can tell whence it comes—and it comes to very few. There are also human beings for whom snakes have a natural affinity."
Elodie shuddered. "Snakes! I prefer birds. Ah, le petit amour. Viens donc!"
She had them all about her, on head and shoulders and arms, all unafraid, all content; then all fluttering with their clipped wings, about her lips, except a grey parrot who rubbed his beak against her ear.
Andrew, emerging suddenly from the wings, stood wonder-stricken.
"But you are a bird-woman," said he. "I have heard of such, but never seen one."
From that moment, the town-bred, town-compelled woman who had thought of bird-life only in terms of sparrows, set about to test her unsuspected powers. And what the old man and Andrew had said was true.... They wandered to the Peyrou, the beautiful Louis XIV terraced head of the great aqueduct, and sat in the garden—she alone, Andrew some yards apart—and once a few crumbs attracted a bird, it would hop nearer and nearer, and if she was very still it would light on her finger and eat out of the palm of her hand, and if she were very gentle, she could stroke the wild thing's head and plumage.
A new and wonderful interest came into her life. To find birds, Elodie, who by this time hated walking from hotel to music-hall, so had her indolence grown accustomed to the luxurious car, tramped for miles through the woods accompanied by Andrew almost as excited as herself at the new discovery. And he bought her books on birds, from which she could learn their names, their distinguishing colours and marks, their habits and their cries.
It must be remarked that the enthusiastic search for knowledge, involving, as it did, much physical exertion, lasted only a summer. But it sufficed to re-establish friendly relations between the drifting pair. She found an interest in life apart from the professional routine. During the autumn and winter she devoted herself to the training of birds, and Andrew gave her the benefit of his life's experience in the science. They travelled about with an aviary. And while Andrew, now unreproached, frowned, pencil in hand and notebook by his side, over the strategics of the Franco-Prussian War, Elodie, always in her slatternly wrapper, spent enraptured hours in putting her feathered troupe through their pretty tricks or in playing with them foolishly as one plays with a dog.
Thus their midway mutual grievances imperceptibly vanished. The positive was eliminated from their relations. They had been beginning to hate each other. Hatred ceased. Perhaps Elodie dreamed now and then of the Perfect Lover. Andrew had ever at the back of his soul the Far-away Princess, the Other One, the Being who would enable him to formulate a mode of nebulous existence and spiritual chaos, and then to live the wondrous life recalled by the magical formula. I must insist on this, so that you can recognize that the young and successful mountebank, although dead set on the perfection of his mountebankery, and, in serious fact, never dreaming of a work-a-day existence outside the walls of a Variety Theatre yet had the tentacles of his being spread gropingly, blindly, octopus-like, to the major potentialities of life. Even when looking back upon himself, as he does in the crude manuscript, he cannot account for these unconscious, or subconscious, feelings. He has no idea of the cause of the fascination wrought on him by military technicalities. It might have been chess, it might have been conchology, it might have been heraldry. Hobbies are more or less unaccountable. In view of his later career it seems to me that he found in the unalluring textbooks of Clausewitz and Foch and those bound in red covers for the use of the staff of the British Army, some expressions of a man's work—which was absent from the sphere into which fate had set him clad in green silk tights. The subject was instinct with the commanding brain. If his lot had been cast in the theatre proper, instead of in the music-hall, he might have become a great manager. However, all that is by the way. The important thing, for the time we are dealing with, is his relations with Elodie for the remainder half of their union before the war. These, I have said, ceased to be positive. They accepted their united life as they accepted the rain and the sunshine and the long motor journeys from town to town. Spiritually they went each their respective ways, unmolested by the other. But they each formed an integral part of the other's existence. They were bound by the indissoluble ties of habit. And as Elodie, now that she had got her birds to amuse her, made no demands on Andrew, and as Andrew, who had schooled his tidy soul to toleration of her slovenliness, made no demands on Elodie, they were about as happy as any pair in France.
When she passed thirty, her face coarsened and her uncared-for figure began to spread.
And then the war broke out.
The outbreak of war knocked the Petit Patou variety combination silly, as it knocked many thousands of other combinations in France. One day it was a going concern worth a pretty sum of money; the next day it was gone.
They happened to be in Paris, putting in a fortnight's rest after an exhausting four months on the road, and waiting for the beginning of a beautiful tour booked for Aix-les-Bains, for the race-weeks at Dieppe and Deauville, for Biarritz—the cream of August and September resorts of the wealthy.... Then, in a dazzling flash, mobilization. No more actors, no more stage hands, no more croupiers, no more punters, no more theatre-goers. No more anything but all sorts and conditions of men getting into uniform and all sorts and conditions of women trying to smile but weeping inward blood. Contracts, such as Andrew's, were blown away like thistledown.
Peremptory authorities required Andrew's papers. They had done so years before when he reached the age of military service. But now, as then, they proved Andrew indisputably to be a British subject—he had to thank Ben Flint for that—and the authorities went their growling way.
"What luck!" cried Elodie, when she heard the result of the perquisition. "Otherwise you would have been taken and sent off to this sale guerre."
"I'm not so sure," replied Andrew, with a grim set of his ugly jaw, "that I'm not going off to the sale guerre, without being sent."
"But it is idiotic, what you say!" cried Elodie, in consternation. "What do you think, Horace?"
Bakkus threw a pair of Elodie's corsets which encumbered the other end of the sofa on which he was lounging on to the floor and put up his feet and sucked at his cigar, one of Andrew's best—the box, by the way, Elodie, who kept the key of a treasure cupboard, seldom brought out except for Bakkus—and said:
"Andrew isn't a very intellectual being. He bases his actions on formulas. Such people in times of stress even forget the process of thought that led to the establishment of the formulas. They shrink into a kind of trained animal. Andrew here is just like a little dog ready to do his tricks. Some voice which he can't resist will soon say, 'Bingo, die for your country.' And our good friend, without changing a muscle of his ugly face, will stretch himself out dead on the floor."
"Truth," said Andrew, with a hard glint in his eyes, "does sometimes issue from the lips of a fool."
Bakkus laughed, passing his hand over his silvering locks; but Elodie looked very serious. Absent-mindedly she picked up her corsets, and, the weather being sultry, she fanned herself with them.
"You are going to enlist in the Legion?"
"I am an Englishman, and my duty is towards my own country."
"Bingo is an English dog," said Bakkus.
Reaction from gladness made Elodie's heart grow cold, filled it with sudden dread. It was hard. Most of the women of France were losing their men of vile necessity. She, one of the few privileged by law to retain her man, now saw him swept away in the stream. Protest could be of no avail. When the mild Andrew set his mug of a face like that—his long smiling lips merged into each other like two slugs, and his eyes narrowed to little pin points, she knew that neither she nor any woman nor any man nor the bon Dieu Himself could move him from his purpose. She could only smile rather miserably.
"Isn't it a little bit mad, your idea?"
"Mad? Of course he is," said Bakkus. "Much reading in military text-books has made him mad. A considerably less interesting fellow than Andrew, who, after all, has a modicum of brains, one Don Quixote, achieved immortality by proceeding along the same lunatic lines."
Then Elodie flashed out. She understood nothing of the allusion, but she suspected a sneer.
"If I were a man I should fight for France. If Andre thinks it is his duty to fight for England, it may be mad, but it is fine, all the same. Yesterday, in the street, I sang the Marseillaise with the rest. 'Amour sacre de la Patrie.' Eh bien! There are other countries besides France. Do you deny that the amour sacre exists for the Englishman?"
Andrew rose and gravely took Elodie's face in his delicate hands and kissed her.
"I never did you the wrong, my dear, of thinking you would feel otherwise."
"Neither did I, my good Elodie," said Bakkus, hurriedly opportunist. "If I have had one ambition in my life it is to sun myself in the vicarious glamour of a hero."
The corsets rolled off Elodie's lap as she turned swiftly.
"You really think Andre if he enlists in the English Army will be a hero?"
"Without doubt," replied Bakkus.
"I am glad," said Elodie. "You have such a habit of mocking all the world that when you are talking of serious things one doesn't know what you mean."
So peace was made. In the agitated days that followed she saw that a profound patriotism underlay Bakkus's cynicism, and she relied much on his counsel. Every man that England could put into the field was a soldier fighting for France. She glowed at the patriotic idea. Andrew, to his great gladness, noted that no hint of the cry "What is to become of me?" passed her lips. She counted on his loyalty as he had counted on hers. When he informed her of the arrangement he had made with her lawyer for her support during his absence, all she said was:
"Mon cher, it is far too much! I can live on half. And as for the will—let us not talk of it. It makes me shiver."
Here came out all that was good in Elodie. She took the war and its obligations, as she had taken her professional work. Through all her flabbiness ran the rod of steel. She suffered, looking forward with terror to the unthinkable future. Already one of her friends, Jeanne Duval, comedienne, was a widow ... What would life be without Andre? She trembled before the illimitable blankness. The habit of him was the habit of her life, like eating and drinking; his direction her guiding principle. Yet she dominated her fears and showed a brave face.
Often a neighbour, meeting her in the quarter, would say:
"You are fortunate, Madame. You will not lose your husband." To the quarter, as indeed to all the world, they were Monsieur and Madame Patou. "He is an Englishman and won't be called up."
She would flash with proud retort:—
"In England men are not called up. They go voluntarily. Monsieur Patou goes to join the English army."
She was not going to make her sacrifice for nothing.
To Bakkus Andrew confided the general charge of Elodie.
"My dear fellow," said the cynic, "isn't it rather overdoing your saintly simplicity? Do you remember the farce 'Occupe-toi d'Amelie?' Do I appeal to you as a squire of deserted dames, grass-widows endowed with plenty? I—a man of such indefinite morals that so long as I have mutton cutlets I don't in the least care who pays for them? Aren't you paying for this very mouthful now?"
"You are welcome," replied Andrew with a grin, "to all the mutton that Elodie will give you."
Elodie's only proclaimed grievance against Bakkus, whom otherwise she vastly admired, was his undisguised passion for free repasts.
When it came to parting, Elodie wept and sobbed. He marvelled at her emotion.
"You love me so much, my little Elodie?"
"Mais tu es ma vie toute entiere. Haven't you understood it?"
In that sense—no. He had not understood. They had arranged their lives so much as business partners, friends, fate-linked humans dependent on each other for the daily amenities of a joint existence. He had never suspected; never had cause to suspect, this hidden flood of sentiment. The simple man's heart responded. For such love she must be repaid. In the packed train which sped him towards England he carried with him no small remorse for past indifference.
Now, what next happened to Andrew, is, as I have said before, omitted from his manuscript. Nor has he vouchsafed to me, in conversation, anything but the rudest sketch. All we know is that he enlisted straight into the regular Army, the Grenadier Guards. Millions of Tommies have passed through his earlier experiences. His gymnastic training, his professional habits of accuracy and his serious yet alert mind bore him swiftly through preliminary stages to high efficiency. In November, 1914, he found himself in Flanders. Wounded, a few months afterwards, he was sent home, patched up, sent back again. Late in 1915, a sergeant, he had his first leave, which he spent in Paris.
Elodie received him with open arms. She was impressed by the martial bearing of her ramrod of a man, and she proudly fingered the three stripes on his sleeve and the D.C.M. ribbon on his breast. She took him for walks, she who, in her later supineness, hated to put one foot before the other—by the Grands Boulevards, the Rue Royale, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees, hanging on his arm, with a recrudescence of the defiant air of the Marseilles gamine. She made valiant efforts to please her hero who had bled in great battles and had returned to fight in great battles again. She had a thousand things to tell him of her life in Paris, to which the man, weary of the mud and blood of war, listened as though they were revelations of Paradise. Yet, she had but existed idly day in and day out, in the eternal wrapper and slippers, with her cage of birds. The little beasts kept her alive—it was true. One was dull in Paris without men. And the women of her acquaintance, mostly professional, were in poverty. They had the same cry, "My dear, lend me ten francs." "My little Elodie, I am on the rocks, my man is killed." "Ma bien aimee, I am starving. You who are at ease, let me come and eat with you"—and so on and so on. Her heart grieved for them; but que veux-tu?—one was not a charitable institution. So it was all very sad and heartrending. To say nothing of her hourly anxiety. If only the sale guerre would cease and they could go on tour again! Ah, those happy days!
"Were they, after all, so very happy?" asked Andrew.
"One was contented, free from care."
"May they not come to tell me at any minute that you are killed?"
"That's true," said Andrew gravely.
"I love you more now," replied Elodie.
Which gave Andrew food for thought, whenever he had time at the front to consider the appetite.
When next he had a short leave it was as a Lieutenant; but Elodie had gone to Marseilles, braving the tedious third-class journey, to attend her mother's funeral. There Madame Figasso having died intestate, she battled with authorities and lawyers and the huissier Boudin who professed heartbreak at her unfilial insistence on claiming her little inheritance. With the energy which she always displayed in the serious things of life she routed them all. She sold the furniture, the dressmaking business, wrested the greasy bag of savings from the hands of a felonious and discomfited Boudin, and returned to Paris with some few thousand francs in her pocket. Horatio Bakkus, meanwhile, had moved into the Saint-Denis flat to take care of the birds. Nobody in France craving the services of a light tenor, he would have starved, had not his detested brother the Archdeacon, a rich man, made him a small allowance. It was a sad day for him when, after a couple of months' snug lying, he had to betake himself to his attic under the roof, where he shivered in the coalless city.
"I die of convention," said he. "Behold, you have a spare room centrally heated. You are virtue itself. I not only occupy the sacred position of your guardian, but am humiliatingly aware of my supreme lack of attraction. And yet—"
"Fich'-moi le camp," laughed Elodie.
And Bakkus took up his old green valise and returned to his eyrie. There should be no scandal in the Faubourg Saint-Denis if Elodie could help it. But a few days later—
"Ah, je m'ennuie, je m'ennuie," she cried in an accent of boredom.
Then Bakkus elaborated a Machiavellian idea. Why shouldn't she work? At what? Why, hadn't she a troupe of trained birds? Madame Patou was not the first comer in the variety world. She could get engagements in the provinces. How did she know that the war would not last longer than Andrew's savings?
"Mon Dieu, it is true," she said.
Forthwith she went to the agent Moignon. After a few weeks she started on the road with her aviary, and Bakkus once more left his eyrie to take charge of the flat in the Faubourg St. Denis.
It came to pass that the next time Andrew and Elodie met in their Paris house, he wore a Major's crown and the ribbons of the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross and the Legion of Honour. From his letters she had grasped but little of his career and growing distinction; but the sight of him drove her mad with pride. If she had loved to parade the Paris streets with him as a Sergeant, now she could scarcely bear to exist with him otherwise than in public places. Not only an officer, but almost a Colonel. And decorated—he, an English officer, with the Legion of Honour! The British decorations she scarcely understood—but they made a fine display. The salutes from uniformed men of every nation almost turned her head. The little restaurant round the corner, where they had eaten for so many years, suddenly appeared to her an inappropriate setting for his exalted rank. She railed against its meanness.
"Let us eat then," laughed Andrew, who had not given the matter a thought, "on the Place de la Madeleine."
But if the Restaurant Mangin in the Faubourg Saint-Denis was too lowly, the Restaurant Weber frightened her by its extravagance. She hit upon the middle course of engaging a cook for the wonderful fortnight of his leave and busying herself with collaborating in the preparation of succulent meals.
"My dear child," said Andrew, sitting at his own table in the tiny and seldom-used salle a manger for the first time since their early disastrous experience of housekeeping, "why in the world haven't we had this cosiness before?"
He seemed to have entered a new world of sacred domesticity. The outward material sign of the inward grace drew him nearer to her than all protestations of affection.
"Why have you waited all these years?" he asked.
Elodie, expansive, rejoicing in the success of the well-cooked dinner, reproached herself generously. It was all her fault. Before the war she had been ignorant, idle. But the war had taught her many things. Above all it had taught her to value her petit homme.
"Because you now see him in his true colours," observed Bakkus, who took for granted a seat at the table as the payment for his guardianship. "The drill sergeant I always talked to you about."
"Sergeant!" Elodie flung up her head in disdain. "He is Commandant. And see to it that you are not wanting in respect."
"From which outburst of conjugal ferocity, my dear fellow," said Bakkus, "you can gauge the conscientiousness of my guidance of Elodie during your absence."
Andrew grinned happily. He was full of faith in both of them—loving woman, loyal friend.
"It is true," said he, "that I have found my vocation."
"What are you going to do when the war is over and Othello's occupation is gone?"
"I don't think the war will ever be over," he laughed. "It's no good looking ahead. For the present one has to regard soldiering as a permanent pursuit."
"I thought so," said Bakkus. "He'll cry when it's over and he can't move his pretty soldiers about."
"That is true?" asked Elodie, in the tone of one possessed of insight.
Andrew shrugged his shoulders, a French trick out of harmony with his British uniform.
"Perhaps," said he with a sigh.
"I too," said Elodie, "will be sorry when you become Petit Patou again."
He touched her cheek caressingly with the back of his hand, and smiled. Strange how the war had brought her the gift of understanding. Never had he felt so close to her.
"All the same," added Elodie, "it is very dangerous la-bas, mon cheri—and I don't want you to get killed."
"All the glory and none of the death," said Bakkus. "Conducted on those principles, warfare would be ideal employment for the young. But you would be going back to the Middle Ages, when, if a knight were killed, he was vastly surprised and annoyed. Personally I hate the war. It prevents me from earning a living, and insults me with the sense of my age, physical decay and incapacity. I haven't a good word to say for it."
"If you only went among the wounded in the Paris hospitals," replied Andrew, with some asperity, "and sang to them—"
"My good fool," said Bakkus, "I've been doing that for about four or five hours a day since the war began, till I've no voice left."
"Didn't you know?" cried Elodie. "Horace has never worked so hard in his life. And for nothing. In his way he is a hero like you."
"Why the devil didn't you tell me?" cried Andrew.
Bakkus flung a hand. "If you hadn't to dress the part what should I have known of your rank and orders? Would you go about saying 'I'm a dam fine fellow'?"
"I'm sorry," said Andrew, filling his guest's glass. "I ought to have taken it for granted."
"We give entertainments together," said Elodie. "He sings and I take the birds. Ah! the poilus. They are like children. When Riquiqui takes off Paulette's cap they twist themselves up with laughing. Il faut voir ca."