"The fault is not that of France, or Marseilles, my dear Elodie. Perhaps the war may have something to do with it. But the fault is mine."
She waved away so insane a suggestion. Went into details. How could it be his fault when the night's tricks were as identical with the tricks which used to command applause as two reproductions of the same cinema film? As for the breakdown of the new trick with the elongated violin and bow, she had seen where the mechanism had not worked properly. A joint had stuck; the audience had seen it too; an accident which could happen anywhere; that had nothing to do with the failure of the entertainment. The failure lay in the mental and moral condition of the degraded post-war audience. For all her championing, Andrew shook his head sadly.
"No. Your cinema analogy won't hold. The fault's in me, and I'm sorry, my dear."'
He tried to explain. She tried to understand. It was hopeless. He knew that he had lost, and had not yet recovered, that spiritual or magnetic contact with his audience which is the first element in artistic success, be the artistry never so primitive. The audience, he realized full well, had regarded him as a mechanical figure executing mechanical antics which in themselves had no particular claim on absorbing human interest. The eternal appeal, the "held me with his eye" of the Ancient Mariner, was wanting. And the man trained in the school of war saw why.
They walked to their modest hostelry. He had shrunk from the great hotels where the lounges were still full of men in khaki going or coming from overseas—among whom he would surely find acquaintances. But he no longer desired to meet them. He had cut himself clean adrift from the old associations. He told me that Bakkus and I were his only correspondents. Henceforth he would exist solely as Petit Patou, flinging General Lackaday dead among the dead things of war.... Besides, the great hotels of Marseilles cost the eyes of your head. The good old days of the comfortable car and inexpensive lodging had gone apparently for ever, and he had to fall back on the travel and accommodation of his early struggling days.
Elodie continued the discussion of the disaster. His face wore its wry grin of discomfiture; but he said little. They must go on as they had begun. Perhaps things would right themselves. He would lose his loathing of his mountebank trade and thus win back the sympathy of his audience.
Before they separated for the night she flung her arm protectingly round him and kissed him.
"They shall applaud you, mon vieux, I promise you."
He laughed. Again her faith touched him deeply.
"You have not changed since our first meeting in the Restaurant Garden at Avignon. You are always my mascot, Elodie!"
The menacing thunder broke in the night, and all the next day it rained pitilessly. Two or three morning hours they spent at the music-hall, rehearsing, so that no physical imperfection should mar the evening performance. The giant violin worked with the precision of a Stradivarius. All that human care could do was done. They drove back to the hotel to lunch. Elodie lounged for the rest of the afternoon in her room, with a couple of love-birds for company—the rest of the aviary in the Saint-Denis flat being under the guardianship of Bakkus; and Andrew, with his cleared dressing-table for a desk, brought up-to-date the autobiographical manuscript which for the past few months had solaced so many hours of enforced leisure. Then they dined and proceeded to the music-hall, Elodie defiant, with a flush on her cheek, Andrew with his jaw set in a sort of hopeless determination.
The preparations of the preceding evening repeated themselves. The rain had slightly cooled the air, but the smell of drains and humanity and leaky gas-pipes and the mangy lion, still caught at Andrew's throat. The little dresser, while investing him in the hated motley, pointed proudly to the open skylight. He himself had mounted, at great personal peril, to the roof. One was not a Chasseur Alpin for nothing. O yes, he had gone all through the war. He had the military medal, and four chevrons. Had Monsieur Patou seen any service? Like everybody else, said Andrew. It was good to get back to civil life and one's ordinary tasks, said the dresser whom the change in the weather perhaps had rendered more optimistic. Was not Monsieur Patou glad to return to the stage? A man's work, what? The war was for savages and wild beasts—not for human beings. Andrew let him talk on, wondering idly how he had sloughed his soldier's life without a regret. He stood up, once more, in his zany garb, and, looking in the mirror, lost sight of himself for a poignant second while the dressing-room changed into an evil-smelling dug-out, dark save for one guttering candle stuck in a bottle, and in the shadows he saw half a dozen lean, stern faces lit with the eyes of men whom he was sending forth to defy death. And every one of them hung upon his words as though they were a god's. The transient vision faded, and he became aware again of the grotesque and painted clown gibbering meaninglessly out of the glass.
He strode down the iron stairs. There was the table of properties waiting in the wings. There came Elodie to join him. There, in the fiercely lighted strip of stage, the back, cut by the wing, of the singer with the voice of the duck, ending the "Jewel Song." Then came the applause, the now undisputed encore, the weary nervous wait.... Such had been his life night after night in unconsidered, undreamed-of monotony—before the war...such would be his life henceforward—changeless, deadly, appalling.
At last, he went on. Through the mysterious psychological influence which one audience has on another, his reception was even more frigid than before. Elodie made her entrance. The house grew restless, inattentive, Andrew flogged his soul until he seemed to sweat his heart's blood. Here and there loud talking and hoarse laughter rose above the buzz and rustle of an unappreciative audience. Elodie's breast heaved and her face grew pallid beneath its heavy paint, but her eyes were bright.
"Allons toujours," Andrew whispered.
But in the famous cigar act he missed, for the first time since the far off rehearsals after the death of Prepimpin, when the fault was due to Elodie's lack of skill. But now, she threw it fair. It was he who missed. The lighted cigar smote him on the cheek. The impossibility of the occurrence staggered him for a second. But a second on the stage is an appreciable space of time, sufficient for the audience to pounce on his clumsiness, to burst into a roar of jeering laughter, to take up the cruelty of the hiss.
But before he could do anything Elodie, coarse and bulging out of her short red bodice and skirt, her features contorted with anger, was in front of the footlights, defying the house.
"Laches!" she cried.
The word which no Frenchman can hear unperturbed cut the clamour like a trumpet call. There was sudden silence.
"Yes. Cowards. You make me ashamed that I am of Marseilles. To you a demobilized hero is nothing. But instead of practising his tricks during the war to amuse you, he has been fighting for his country. And he has earned this." She flashed from her bosom a white-enamelled cross depending from a red ribbon. "Voila! Not Chevalier—but Officier de la Legion d'Honneur!" With both pudgy arms outstretched she held the audience for the tense moment. "And from simple soldier to General of Brigade. And that is the Petit Patou whom you insult." She threatened them with the cross. "You insult France!"
Reaction followed swift on her lightning speech. The French audience, sensitive to the dramatic and the patriotic, burst into tumultuous acclamation. Elodie smiled at them triumphantly and turned to Andrew, who stood at the back of the stage, petrified, his chin in the air, at the full stretch of his inordinate height, his eyes gleaming, his long thin lips tightened so that they broke the painted grin, his hands on his hips.
Now if Elodie had carried out the plan developed during the night she could then and there have died happily. Exulting in her success, she tripped up the stage to Andrew, the clasp of the decoration between finger and thumb, hoping to pin it on his breast. The applause dropped, the house hovering for an instant on the verge of anti-climax. But Andrew, with a flash of rage and hatred, waved her away, and strode down to the footlights, tearing off his grotesque wig and revealing his shock of carroty hair. His soul was sick with horror. Only the swift silence made him realize that he was bound to address the audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said he, "I thank you for your generosity to me as a soldier. But I am here to try to merit your approbation as an artist. For what has just happened I must ask you to pardon a woman's heart."
He remaned for a while glaring at them. Then, when the applause came to an end, he bowed, half ironically and gave a quick, imperious order, at which the curtain was rung down amid an uproar of excitement. He strode into the wings followed by Elodie starry-eyed, and stood panting. The curtain rose as if automatically. The manager thrust him towards the stage.
"They want you," he cried.
"They can go to the devil," said Andrew.
Regardless of the clamour, he stalked with Elodie to the foot of the iron stairs. On their way they passed the waxed moustachioed trainer of the performing dogs.
"A good coup de theatre, Madame," he remarked jealously.
Andrew glowered down on him.
"You say, Monsieur——?"
But the dog trainer meeting the eyes burning in the painttd face, thought it best to say nothing, and Andrew mounted the stairs. Elodie followed him into his dressing-room palpitating with excitement and perplexity and clutching both his arms looked wildly into his face.
"You are not pleased with me?"
For a moment or two he regarded her with stupid hostility; then, getting a grip on himself, he saw things from her point of view and realized her wit and her courage and her devotion. It was no fault of hers that she had no notion of his abhorrence of the scene.
"It is only you who could have dared," he said.
"I told you last night they should applaud you."
"And last night I told you you are always my mascot."
"If it only weren't true that you love me no longer," said Elodie.
The dresser entered. Elodie slipped out. Andrew made a step, after her to the threshold.
"What the devil did she mean by that?" said he, after the manner of men.
She did not repeat the reproach, nor did Andrew put to her the question which he had asked himself. The amicable placidity unruffled by quarrel, which marked their relations, was far too precious to be disturbed by an unnecessary plumbing of emotional depths. As far as he could grapple with psychological complexities, there had been nothing between them, through all the years, of the divine passion. She had come to him disillusioned and weary. He had come to her with a queer superstitious gratitude for help in the past and a full recognition of present sympathy and service. As the French say, they had made together un bon menage. Save for a few half-hysterical days during the war—and in that incomprehensible pre-war period at the end of which the birds came to her rescue, there had been little talk of love and dreams of delight and the rest of the vaporous paradise of the mutually infatuated. He could not manifest, nor did she demand, a lover's ardour. It had all been as comfortable and satisfactory as you please. And now, at the most irrelevant moment, according to his masculine mind, came this cry of the heart.
But was it of the heart? Did it not rather proceed from childish disappointment at his lack of enthusiastic praise of her splendid exploit? As I say, he judged it prudent to leave the problem unsolved. Of the exploit itself, needless to remark, she talked interminably. Generous and kind-hearted, he agreed with her arguments. Of the humiliation she had wrought for him, he allowed her to have no notion.
He shivered all night at the degradation of his proudest honour. It had been gained, not as one of a batch of crosses handed over to the British military authorities for distribution, but on the field. He had come, with a handful of men, to the relief of a sorely pressed village held by the French; somehow he had rallied the composite force, wiped out two or three nests of machine guns and driven out the Germans; as officer in command he had consolidated the village, so that, when the French came up, he had handed it over to them as a victor. A French general had pinned the cross on his breast on a day of wind and rain and bursting shell, on a vast plain of unutterable devastation. The upholding of it before the mob of Marseilles had been a profanation. In these moments of anguished amazement he had suffered as he had never suffered in his life before. And he had been helpless. Before he realized what was being done, Elodie, in her tempestuous swiftness, had done it. It was only when she came to fix the cross on his breast that his soul sprang to irresistible revolt. He could have taken her by the throat and wrung it, and flung her away dead.
Thus, they were infinite leagues asunder. She met what amounted to wearily indulgent forgiveness when she had fully expected to reap the golden meed of heroism.
The next morning, she went about silent, perplexed, unhappy. By her stroke of genius she had secured for him a real success. If he had allowed her to crown the dramatic situation by pinning on the cross, his triumph had been such as the stage had never seen.
"Why didn't you let me do it?" she asked.
"To complete a work of art," said he, "is always a mistake. You must leave something to the imagination."
"But I did right. Tell me I did right."
Denial would have been a dagger thrust through a loyal heart.
"You acted, my dear," said he, "like a noble woman."
And she was aware of a shell which she could not pierce. From their first intimate days, she had always felt him aloof from her; as a soldier during the war she had found him the counterpart of the millions of men who had heroically fought; as an officer of high rank, as a General, she had stood, in her attitude towards him, in uneducated awe; as a General demobilized and a reincarnation of Petit Patou, he had inspired her with a familiarity bred not of contempt—that was absurd—but of disillusion. And now, to her primitive intelligence, he loomed again as an incomprehensible being actuated by a moral network of motives of which she had no conception.
He escaped early from the little hotel and wandered along the quays encumbered with mountains of goods awaiting transport, mighty crates of foodstuffs, bales of hay, barrels of wine from Algiers. Troops and sailors of all nations mingled with the dock employees who tried to restore order out of chaos. Calm goods trains whistled idly by the side of ships or on sidings, the engine drivers lounging high above the crowd in Olympian indifference. The broken down organization had nothing to do with them. Here, in the din and the clatter and the dust and the smell of tar and other sea-faring things reeking shorewards under the blazing sun, Andrew could hide himself from the reputable population of the town. In the confusion of a strange world he could think. His life's unmeaningness overwhelmed him; he moved under the burden of its irony. In that she had hurled insulting defiance at a vast, rough audience, Elodie had done a valiant thing. She had done it for love of him. His failure to respond had evoked her reproach. But the very act for which she claimed due reward was a stab to the heart of any lingering love.
And yet, he must go on. There was no way out. He had faced facts ever since the days of Ben Flint—and Elodie was a fact, the principal fact in his life. Curious that she should have faded into comparative insignificance during the war—especially during the last two years of it when he had not seen her. She seemed to have undergone a vehement resurrection. The shadow of the war had developed into the insistent flesh and blood of peace.
He wandered far over the quay, where the ancient Algiers boat was on the point of departure, crammed with red-tarbooshed troops, zouaves, colonials, swarthy Turcos and Spahis, grinning blacks with faces like polished boots, all exultant in the approaching demobilization. The grey-blue mass glistened with medals. The blacks were eating—with the contented merriment of children at a Sunday School treat. Andrew smiled at many memories. Black troops seemed always to be eating. As he stood watching, porters and pack-laden blue helmeted poilus jostled him, until he found a small oasis of quiet near the bows. Here a hand was clapped on his shoulder and a voice said:
"Surely you're Lackaday?"
He turned and beheld the clean-cut bronzed face of a man in civilian dress. As often happens, what he had sought to avoid in the streaming streets of the town, he had found in the wilderness—an acquaintance. It was one Arbuthnot, an Australian colonel of artillery who, through the chances of war, had rendered his battalion great service. A keen, sparely built man made of leather and whipcord, with the Australian's shrewd blue eyes.
They exchanged the commonplaces of greeting.
"Demobilized?" said Andrew.
"You seem glad."
"Good Lord! I should think so. Aren't you glad it's all over?"
"I don't quite know," said Andrew, smiling wistfully.
"Well, I am," declared Arbuthnot. "It was a beastly mess that had to be cleared up, and now it's done as far as my little responsibility is concerned. I'm delighted. I want to get back to my wife and family and lead the life of a human being. War's a dog's life. It has nothing to recommend it. It's as stupid and senseless as a typhoon." He laughed. "What are you doing here?"
Andrew waved a hand. "Putting in time."
"So am I. Till my boat sails. I thought before I left I'd look at a merrier end of France. By Gosh! They're a happy crowd"—he pointed to the packed mass on board the ancient tub of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique.
"You share their feelings," said Andrew.
Arbuthnot glanced at him keenly.
"I heard they made you a Brigadier. Yes? And you've chucked it?"
"I'm a civilian, even as you are," said Andrew.
Arbuthnot pushed back his hat and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"For goodness' sake let us get out of this and sit down somewhere and have a talk."
He moved away, Andrew following, and hailed a broken down cab, a victoria which had just deposited a passenger by the steamer's side.
"To the Cannebiere," said he, and they drove off. "If you have anything to do, please tell me. But I know nobody in this furnace of a town. You're a godsend."
A while afterwards they were seated beneath the awning of a crowded cafe on the Cannebiere. Ceaseless thousands of the globe's population passed by, from the bare-headed, impudent work girls of Marseilles, as like each other and the child Elodie as peas in a pod, to the daintily costumed maiden; from the feathered, flashing quean of the streets to the crape encumbered figure of the French war-widow; from the abject shuffler clad in flapping rags and frowsy beard to the stout merchant dressed English fashion, in grey flannels and straw hat, with two rolls of comfortable fat above his silk collar; from the stray British or American private perspiring in khaki to splendid officers, French, Italian, Roumanian, Serbian, Czecho-Slovak, be-medalled like the advertisements of patent foods; from the middle aged, leaden pipe laden Marseilles plumber, in his blue smock, to the blue-uniformed Senegalese private, staring with his childish grin, at the multitudinous hurrying sights of an unfamiliar crowd. Backwards and forwards they passed in two thick unending streams. And the roadway clashed with trams following each other, up and down, at fraction of a second intervals, and with a congestion of waggons, carts, cabs, automobiles, waiting patiently on the pleasure of these relentless, strident symbols of democracy.
In his troubled mood, Andrew found Arbuthnot also a godsend. It was good to talk once more with a man of his own calibre about the things that had once so intensely mattered. He lost his shyness and forgot for a time his anxieties. The rushing life before him had in its way a soothing charm to one resting, as it were, on the quiet bank. It was good, too, to talk English—or listen to it; for much of the talking was done by his companion. Arbuthnot was full of the big, beloved life that lay before him. Of the wife and children whom he had not seen for four years. Of his home near Sydney. Of the Solomon Islands, where he spent the few healthy months of the year growing coco-nuts for copra and developing a pearl fishery. A glorious, free existence, said he. And real men to work with. Every able-bodied white in the Solomon Islands had joined up—some hundred and sixty of them. How many would be going back, alas! he did not yet know. They had been distributed among so many units of the Australian Forces. But he was looking forward to seeing some of the old hard-bitten faces in those isles of enchantment.
"I thought," said Andrew, "that it rained all the year round on the Solomon Islands; that they were so depressing, in fact, that the natives ate each other to keep up their spirits."
Arbuthnot protested vehemently. It was the loveliest climate in the world during the time that white folk stayed there. Of course, there was a rainy season, but then everybody went back to Australia. As for cannibals—he laughed.
"If you're at a loose end," said he, "come out with me and have a look round. It will clear the war out of your system."
Andrew held a cigarette between the tips of his fingers and looked at the curling smoke. The picture of the reefs and surfs and white sands and palm-trees of these far off islands rose, fascinating, before his eyes. And then he remembered that he had once a father and mother—and a birth-place.
"Curiously enough," said he, "I am Australian born."
He had scarcely ever realized the fact.
"All the more reason," said Arbuthnot heartily. "Come with me on the Osway. The captain's a pal of mine. He'll fix up a bunk for you somewhere."
He offered boundless hospitality. Andrew grew more wistful. He thanked Arbuthnot. But——
"I'm a poor man," said he, "and have to earn my living at my old job."
"And what's that?"
"I'm a music-hall artist," said Andrew.
"You? Good Lord! I thought you had been a soldier all your life. One of the old contemptibles."
"I enlisted as a private in the Grenadier Guards," smiled Andrew.
"And came to be a General in a brass hat—and now you're back on the stage. Somehow it doesn't fit. Do you like it?"
Andrew winched at the intimate question of the frank and direct Australian. Last night's scene swept across his vision, hateful and humiliating.
"I have no choice," said he.
As before, on the quay, Arbuthnot looked at him, keenly.
"I don't think you do like it. I've met hundreds of fellows who feel just the same as you. I'm different, as I told you. But I can understand the other point of view. Perhaps I should kick if I had to go back to a poky office, instead of a free, open-air life. After all, we're creatures of circumstance."
He paused to light a cigar. Andrew made no reply, and the conversational topic died a natural death. They talked of other things—went back to Arras, the Somme, Saint Quentin. Presently Arbuthnot, pulling out his watch, suggested lunch. Andrew rose, pleading an engagement—his daily engagement with Elodie at the stuffy little hotel table d'hote. But the other begged him for God's sake not to desert him in this lonely multitude. It would not be the act of a Christian and a comrade. Andrew was tempted, feeling the charm and breeziness of the Australian like a breath of the free air of Flanders and Picardy. He went indoors to the telephone. Elodie, eventually found, responded. Of course, her poor Andre must have his little pleasure. He deserved it, mon Dieu! It was gentil of him to consult her. And it had fallen out quite well, for she herself could not eat. The stopping had dislodged itself from one of her teeth which was driving her mad with pain and she was going to a dentist at one o'clock. He commiserated with her on her misadventure. Elodie went into realistic details of the wreck of the gold stopping on the praline stuffing of a chocolate. Then an anguished "Ne me coupez pas, Mademoiselle." But Mademoiselle of the Exchange cut ruthlessly, and Andrew returned to Arbuthnot.
"I'm at your service," said he.
Arbuthnot put himself into Lackaday's hands. The best place. The best food. It was not often he had the honour of entertaining a British General unawares. Andrew protested. The other insisted. The General was his guest. Where should they go? Somewhere characteristic. He was sick of the food at grand hotels. It was the same all the world over—Stockholm, Tokio, Scarborough, Melbourne, Marseilles.
"Marseilles has nothing to boast of in the way of cookery," said Andrew, "save its bouillabaisse."
"Now what's that?" cried Arbuthnot. "I've sort of heard of it."
"My dear fellow," said Andrew, with his ear-to-ear grin. "To live in Marseilles and be innocent of bouillabaisse is like having gone through the war without tasting bully beef."
He was for dragging him to the little restaurant up a side street in the heart of the town which is the true shrine of bouillabaisse. But Arbuthnot had heard vaguely of another place, celebrated for the dish, where one could fill one's lungs as well as one's stomach.
"That's it. Taxi!" cried Arbuthnot.
So they drove out and sat in the cool gallery of the Reserve, by a window table, and looked on the blue Mediterranean, and the wonderous dish was set before them and piously served by the maitre d'hotel. Rascasse, Loup-de-mer, mostelle, langouste ... a studied helping of each in a soup plate, then the sodden toast from the tureen and the ladles of clear, rich, yellow liquid flavoured with saffron and with an artist's inspiration of garlic, the essence of the dozen kinds of fish that had yielded up their being to the making of the bouillabaisse. The perfect serving of it is a ceremonial in the grand manner.
Arbuthnot, regarding his swimming plate, looked embarrassed.
"Knife, fork and spoon," said Andrew.
They ate for a while in silence. Then Arbuthnot said:
"Do you remember that wonderful chapter in Meredith's Egoist when Sir Willoughby Patterne offers the second bottle of the Patterne Port to Doctor Middleton, Clara's father—and the old fellow says: 'I have but a girl to give?' Well, I feel like that. This is the most wonderful eating that humanity has ever devised. I'm not a glutton. If I were I should have sampled this before. I'm just an uncivilized man from the bush overwhelmed by a new sensation. I'm your debtor, General, to all eternity. And your genius in recommending this wine"—he filled Andrew's glass with Cinzano's Asti Spumante—"is worthy of the man who saw us out at Bourdon Wood. By the way," he added, after a pause, "what really happened afterwards? I knew you got through. But we poor devils of gunners—we do our job—and away we go to loose off Hell at another section and we never get a clear knowledge of the results."
"I'll tell you in a minute," said Andrew, emptying the salt cellars and running a trench-making finger through the salt, and disposing pepper pots, knives and spoons and supplementing these material objects with lead pencil lines on the table-cloth—all vestiges of the bouillabaisse had been cleared away—"You see, here were the German lines. Here were their machine-guns."
"And my little lot," said Arbuthnot, tapping a remote corner, "was somewhere over here."
They worked out the taking of Bourdon Wood. A medallion de veau perigourdine, a superimposition of toast, foie gras, veal and truffles, interrupted operations. They concluded them, more languidly, before the cheese. The mild mellow Asti softened their hearts, so that at the end of the exquisite meal, in the mingled aroma of coffee, a cigarette, and the haunting saltness of the sea, they spoke (with Andrew's eternal reserve) like brothers.
"My dear fellow," said Arbuthnot, "the more I talk to you the more impossible does it seem that you should settle down to your pre-war job. Why don't you chuck it and come out with me on a business footing?"
"I have no capital," said Andrew.
"You don't need much—a few thousands."
He might have said a few millions for all Andrew's power to command such a sum. The other continued his fairy-tale of the islands. They were going to boom one of these near days. Fortune lay to the hand of the man who came in first. Labour was cheap, the world was shrieking for copra, the transport difficulty would soon adjust itself—-and then a dazzling reward. It was quite possible, he suggested with some delicacy, to find financial aid, and in the meantime to do management work on a salary, so as to keep himself going. The qualities which made him a General were just those which out there would command success. And, Australian born, as he was, he could claim a welcome among his own people.
"I can guarantee you a living, anyhow," said the enthusiast. "Think it over, and let me know before the Osway sails."
It was a great temptation. If he were a free man, he would have cast off the garb of Petit Patou for ever and gone to seek fortune in a new world where he could unashamedly use his own name and military rank among men who did men's work and thought all the better of a man for doing the same. And also he became conscious of a longing to leave France for a season. France was passing through a post-war stage of disgruntlement and suspicion, drawing tight around her feet her tri-coloured skirts so that they should not be touched by the passing foreigner. France was bleeding from her wounds—weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted. The Englishman in Andrew stood hurt and helpless before this morbid, convulsive nationalism. Like a woman in certain emotional states she were better left alone for awhile, till she recovered and smiled her benevolent graciousness again.
Yet if he remained Petit Patou he must stay in France, the land of his professional adoption. From appearing on the English stage he shrank, with morbid sensitiveness. There was America, where he was unknown.... Already Moignon was in touch, on his behalf, with powerful American agencies. Just before he left Paris Moignon had said: "They are nibbling for the winter." But it was all vague. France alone appeared solid—in spite of the disasters of these first two nights.
"I wish to God," he cried suddenly, after a long silence, "I wish to God I could cut everything and come with you."
"What prevents you?" asked Arbuthnot.
"I have ties," said he.
Arbuthnot met the grim look on his face which forbade further questioning.
"Ah!" said he. "Still," he added with a laugh, "I'm at the Hotel de Noailles till Friday. That is to say——"
He explained that he was going the next day to Monte Carlo, which he had never seen, to spend a night or two, but would return in good time for the sailing of the Osway and the hearing of General Lackaday's final decision.
On their drive back to Marseilles, Arbuthnot, during a pause in their talk, said:
"What I can't understand is this. If you're on the music-hall stage, what the deuce are you doing in Marseilles?"
"I'm here on business with my partner," Andrew replied curtly. "If it weren't for that—a business engagement—I would ask you to spend the evening with me," he added. "What are you going to do?"
"I went to the theatre last night. What else is there?"
"They have an excellent Revue at the El Dorado. Go there."
"I will," said Arbuthnot.
Andrew breathed freely, relieved from the dread lest this genial and unsuspecting brother in arms should wander into Olympia and behold—what? What kind of a performance? What kind of a reception? All apart from beholding him in his green silk tights and painted face.
They parted at the Hotel de Noailles. The Australian shook him warmly by the hand.
"This has been one of the great days of my life," said he, with his frank smile. "The day when I return and you tell me you're coming with me, will be a greater."
Andrew walked away in a glow. Here was a man of proved worth, proved in the furnace in which they had met, straight as his eyes, sincere to his soul, who had claimed him as a leader of the Great Brotherhood, who, with a generosity acceptable under the unwritten law of that 'Brotherhood's Freemasonry, had opened his way to freedom and a man's hie. Whether he could follow the way or not was another matter. The fact of the generous opening remained; a heartening thing for all time.
You may perhaps remember that, in the introductory letter which accompanied the manuscript and is quoted at the beginning of this record of the doings of Andrew Lackaday, he remarks:
"At the present moment I am between the devil and the deep sea. I am hoping that the latter will be the solution of my difficulties."
This was written in his hotel room, as soon as he returned. Elodie, unnerved by an over-driven dentist's torture, lay resting in her bedroom with closed windows and drawn shutters. He was between the Devil of Petit Patou-ism and the Deep Sea beyond which lay the Fortunate Isles where men were men and coco-nuts were gold and where the sweat could roll down your leather skin undefiled with greasepaint.
When he had finished writing, he dined with a curiously preoccupied though pain-relieved Elodie. He attributed her unusual mood either to anxiety as to their reception at Olympia, after the previous night's performance, or to realization of the significance of her indiscretion. She ate little, drank less, and scarcely spoke at all.
They reached the music-hall. Andrew changed into his tights. The little dresser retailed the gossip of the place. Elodie had undoubtedly caused a sensation. The dresser loudly acclaimed Madame's action as a beau geste.
"In these days of advertisement one can't afford to be so modest, mon general," said he. "And I, for example, who committed the stupidity of asking whether you had served in the war! To-night we are going to see something quite different."
Andrew laughed. Haunted by the great seas and the Solomon Islands and the palm trees, he found himself scarcely interested in his reception. The audience could talk and cough and hiss as much as they liked. He had practically told them to go to the devil last night. He was quite ready, if need be, to do it again. He was buoyed up by a sublime indifference.
The singer was ending her encore from "La Traviata" when he went down the iron stairs. Elodie met him punctually, for they had agreed to avoid the dreary wait. As soon as the stage was set and the curtain up, he went on and was greeted by a round of applause. Somehow the word had been passed round the populace that formed the Olympia clientele. Thenceforward the performance went without a hitch, to the attentive gratification of the audience. There was no uproarious demonstration; but they laughed in the right places and acclaimed satisfactorily his finale on the giant violin. They gave him a call, to which he responded, leading Elodie by the hand.
For himself, he hardly knew whether to feel relief or contempt, but Elodie, blindly stumbling through the cages of the performing dogs in the wings, almost broke down.
"Now all goes well. Confess I was right."
He turned at the bottom of the stairs.
"Yes. I confess. You did what was right to make it go well."
She scanned his face to read his meaning. Of late he had grown so remote and difficult to understand. He put his arm round her kindly and smiled—and near by his smile, painted to the upper tip of each ear, was grotesquely horrible.
"Why yes, little goose. Now everything will go on wheels."
"That is true?" she asked anxiously.
"I swear it," said he.
When they reached the hotel, she swiftly discarded the walking clothes and slipped on her wrapper in which only was she the real Elodie, and went to his room and sat on the little narrow bed.
"Mon ami," said she, "I have something to tell you. I would not speak this afternoon because it was necessary that nothing should disturb your performance."
Andrew lit a pipe and sat down in the straight-backed arm-chair.
"What's the matter?"
"I had to wait an hour at the dentist's. Why those people say one o'clock when they mean two, except to make you think they are so busy that they do you a favour to look inside your mouth, and can charge you whatever they like—thirty francs, the monster charged me—you ought to go and tell him it was a robbery—"
"My dear," he interrupted, thus cutting out the predicate of her rhetorical sentence, "you surely couldn't have thought a dentist's fee of thirty francs would have put me off my work?"
She threw up her arms. "Mon Dieu! Men are stupid! No. Listen. I had to wait an hour. I had to distract myself—well—you know the supplement to L'Illustration that has appeared every week during the war—the pages of photographs of the heroes of France. I found them all collected in a portfolio on the table. Ah! Some living, but mostly dead. It was heart-breaking. And do you know what I found? I found this. I stole it."
She drew from her pocket peignoir a crumpled page covered with vignette photographs of soldiers, a legend underneath each one, and handed it to Andrew, her thumb indicating a particular portrait.
And Andrew looked and beheld the photograph of a handsome, vast mustachioed, rake-helly officer of Zouaves, labelled as Captain Raoul Marescaux, who had died gloriously for France on the twenty-sixth of March, 1917.
For a second or two he groped for some association with a far distant past.
"But don't you see?" cried Elodie. "It is my husband. He has been dead for over two years."
The real discussion between them of the change that the death of Raoul Marescaux might bring about in their relations, did not take place till the next day. Each felt it as a sudden shock which, as in two chemicals hitherto mingling in placid fluidity, might cause crystallization. Up to this point, the errant husband, vanishing years before across the seas in company with a little modiste of the Place de la Madeleine, had been but a shadow, less a human being than a legal technicality which stood in way of their marriage.
Occasionally during the war each had contemplated the possibility of the husband being killed. A mere fleeting speculation. As Elodie had received no official news of his death—which is astonishing in view of the French Republic's accuracy in tracing the etat civil of even her obscurest citizens—she presumed that he was still alive somewhere in the Shadow Land in which exist monks and Papuans and swell-mobsmen and other members of the human race with whom she had no concern. And Andrew had been far too busy to give the fellow whose name he had all but forgotten, more than a passing thought. But now, there he was, dead, officially reported, with picture and description and distinction and place and date all complete. The shadow had melted into the definite Eternity of Shadows.
Andrew rose early, dressed, and, according to his athletic custom, took his swinging hour's walk through the streets still fresh with the lingering coolness of the night, and then, after breakfast, entered Elodie's room. But she was still fast asleep. She seldom rose till near midday. It was only after lunch, a preoccupied meal, that they found the opportunity for discussion, in the little stuffy courtyard of the hotel, set round with dusty tubs of aloes and screened with a trellis of discontented vine. They sat on a rustic bench by a door and then coffee was served on a blistered iron table once painted yellow. There were many flies which disturbed the slumbers of an old mongrel Newfoundland sprawling on the cobbles.
And there he put to her the proposition which he had formulated during the night.
"My dear," said he, "I have something very important to say to you. You will listen—eh? You won't interrupt?"
Coffee-cup in hand, she glanced at him swiftly before she sipped.
"As you will."
"Yesterday," said he, "I met a comrade of the war, a Colonel of Australian artillery. I lunched with him, as you know."
"Bien," said Elodie.
"I had a long talk with him. He made certain propositions."
He repeated his conversation with Arbuthnot, described at second hand the Solomon Islands, the beauties of reef and palm, the delights of a new, free life and laid before her the guarantee of a competence and the possibilities of a fortune. As he talked, Elodie's dark face grew sullen and her eyes hardened. When he paused, she said:
"You are master of your affairs. If you wish to go, you are free. I have no right to say anything."
"You don't allow me to finish," said he, smiling patiently. "I would not go there without you."
"Moi?" She shifted round on her seat with Southern excitability and pointed her finger at her bosom. "I go to the other end of the world and live among savages and Australians who don't talk French—and I who know no word of English or any other savage tongue? No, my friend. Ask anything else of me—I give it freely, as I have given it all these years. But not that."
"You would go with me as my wife, Elodie. We will get married."
"Pouf!" said Elodie, contemptuously.
Without any knowledge of the terminal values so precious to women, Andrew felt a vague apprehension lest he had begun at the wrong end.
"Surely," said he, by way of reparation. "The death of your husband makes a great difference. Now there is nothing to prevent our marriage."
"There is everything to prevent it," she replied. "You no longer love me."
"The same affection exists," said he, "that has always been between us."
"Then we go on leading the life that we always have led."
"I don't think it very satisfactory," said Andrew.
"I do, if it pleases us to remain together, we remain. If we want to say 'Good-bye' we are free to do so."
He noticed that she wrung her hands nervously together.
"You don't wish to say 'good-bye,' Elodie?" he asked gently.
"Oh, no. It is only not to put ourselves into the impossibility of saying it."
"While you live, my dear," he replied, "I could never say it to you."
"If you went away to the Antipodes, you would have to say good-bye, my dear Andre, for I could not accompany you—never in life. I have heard of these countries. They may be good for men, but for women—no. Unless one is archimillionaire, one has no servants. The woman has to keep the house and wash the floor and cook the meals. And that—you know well—I can't do. It may be selfish and a little unworthy but mon Dieu!—I have always been frank—that's how I am. And except on tour abroad where we have lived in hotels where everybody spoke French I have never lived out of France. That is what I was always saying to myself when you were seeking an occupation. 'What will happen to me if he does get a foreign appointment?' I was afraid, oh, terribly afraid. But I said nothing to you. I loved you too much. But now it is necessary for me to tell you what I have in my heart. You are free to go to what wild island you like—that is why it would be absurd for us to marry—but it would be all finished between us."
"That couldn't be," said Andrew. "What would become of you?"
She averted her head and said abruptly, "Don't think of it."
"But I must think of it. During the war——"
"During the war, it was different. A la guerre comme a la guerre. We knew it could not last for ever. You loved me. It was natural for me to accept the support of mon homme, like all other women. But now, if you leave me—no. N-i-n-i, nini, c'est fini."
So all Andrew's beautiful dreams faded into mist. He rose and crossed the little cobbled courtyard and looked out for a while into the shabby by-street in which the hotel was situated. That Elodie should accompany him was the only feasible way, from the pecuniary point of view, of carrying out the vague scheme.
It would be a life, at first, of some roughness and privation. Arbuthnot had laid the financial side quite clearly before him. He could not expect to land on the Solomon Islands without capital (and even a borrowed capital) and expect an income of a thousand pounds a year to drop into his mouth. If Elodie, although refusing to accompany him, would accept his allowance, that allowance, would, of arithmetical necessity, be far, far less than she had enjoyed during the war. Besides, although he was bound tentatively to suggest it, he knew the odd pride, the rod of steel through her nature, which he had come up against, to his own great advantage, time after time during their partnership, and he would have been the most astonished man in the world had she answered otherwise.
Yes, the dream of coco-nuts and pearls had melted. She was right. Even had she consented, she would have been a ghastly failure in pioneer Colonial life. Their existence would have been mildewed and moth-eaten with misery. She knew herself and her limitations. To go and leave her to starve or earn a precarious livelihood with her birds, on this post-war music-hall stage avid for novelty of sensation, were an act as dastardly as that of the late Raoul Mares-caux who planted her there on the platform of the Gare St. Lazare while he was on his ways overseas with the modiste of the Place de la Madeleine.
He turned to find her dabbing her eyes with a couple of square inches of chiffon which, in spite of its exiguity, had smeared the powder on her face. He sat down beside her, with his patient smile, and took her hand and patted it.
"Come, come, my little Elodie. I am not going to leave you. It was only an idea. If it had attracted you, well and good. But as it doesn't, let us say no more about it."
"I don't want to hinder you in your life, Andre," she said brokenly. "Ca me donne beaucoup de peine. But you see, don't you, that I couldn't do it?"
He soothed her as best he could. Les Petit Patou would invent new business, of a comicality that would once more make their fortunes. That being so, why should they not be married?
She looked at him searchingly. "You desire it as much as that?"
"I desire earnestly," said he, "to do what is right."
"Are you sure that it doesn't come from the respectability of an English General?"
"I don't know how it comes," he replied, hiding the sting of the shrewd thrust with a laugh, "but it's there, all the same."
"Well, I'll think of it," said Elodie, "but give me time. Ne m'embete pas."
He promised not to worry her. "But tell me," he said, after a few moments' perplexity, "why were you so agitated all yesterday after you had seen that photograph?"
Elodie let her hand fall on her lap and regarded him with pitying astonishment. "Mon Dieu! What do you expect a woman to be when she learns that her husband, whom she thinks alive, has been killed two years ago?"
Andrew gave it up.
On the morning of the sailing of the Osway from Marseilles, he called on Arbuthnot at the Hotel de Noailles, and told him of his decision.
"I'm sorry," said Arbuthnot, "as sorry as I can be. But in case you care to change your mind, here's my card."
"And here's mine," said Andrew, and he handed him his card thus inscribed
MONSIEUR PATOU (Combinaison des Petit Patou) 3 rue Falda Faubourg Saint-Denis Paris
Arbuthnot looked from the card to Andrew and from Andrew to the card, in some perplexity.
"Why," said he, "I've seen your bills about the town. You're playing here! Why the deuce didn't you let me know?"
"I gave a better performance at Bourdon Wood," said Andrew.
Now hereabouts, I ought to say, the famous manuscript ends. Indeed, this late Marseilles part of it was very hurried and sketchy. The main object which he had in view—or rather which, in the first inception of the idea, I had suggested he should have in view—namely, "to interest, perhaps encourage, at any rate to stimulate the thoughts of many of my old comrades who have been placed in the same predicament as myself" (as he says in the letter which accompanied the manuscript) he had abandoned as hopeless. He had merely jotted things down helter-skelter, diary fashion. I have had to supplement these notes from his letters and from the confidential talks which we had, not very long after he had left Marseilles.
From these letters and these talks also, it appears that the tour booked by Moignon did not prove the disastrous failure prognosticated by the first two nights at Marseilles. Nowhere did he meet a prewar enthusiasm; but, on the other hand, nowhere did he encounter the hostility of the Marseilles audience. At Lyons, owing to certain broad effects, which he knew of old to be acceptable to that unique, hard-headed, full-bellied, tradition-bound bourgeoisie, he had an encouraging success. He felt the old power return to him—the power of playing on the audience as on a musical instrument. But at Saint-Etienne—a town of operatives—the performance went disappointingly flat. Before a dull or discontented audience he stood helpless. No, the old magnetic power had gone.
However, he had recovered the faculty of making his livelihood somehow or other as Petit Patou, which, he began desperately to feel, was all that mattered. His soul revolted, but his will prevailed. Elodie accompanied him in serene content, more flaccid and slatternly than ever in her hotel room, keenly efficient on the stage.
Now it happened that, a while later, during a visit to some friends in Shropshire who have nothing to do with this story, I broke down in health. I have told you before, that liaison work during the war had put out of action the elderly crock that is Anthony Hylton. Doctors drew undertakers' faces between the tubes of their stethoscopes as they jabbed about my heart, and raised their eyebrows over my blood pressure.
Just at this time I had a letter from Lackaday. Incidentally he mentioned that he was appearing in August at Clermont-Ferrand and that Horatio Bakkus (who, in his new prosperity, could afford to choose times and seasons) had arranged to accept a synchronous engagement at the Casino of Royat.
So while my medical advisers were wringing their hands over the practical inaccessibility and the lack of amenity of Nauheim, whither they had despatched me unwilling in dreary summers before the war, and while they were suggesting even more depressing health resorts in the British Isles, it occurred to me to ask them whether Royat-les-Bains did not contain broken-down heart repairing works of the first order. They brightened up.
"The place of all places,' said they.
"Write me a chit to a doctor there," said I, "and I'm off at once."
I did not care much about my heart. It has always been playing me tricks from the day I fell in love with my elder sister's French governess. But I did care about seeing my friend Lackaday in his reincarnation as Petit Patou, and I was most curious to make the acquaintance of Elodie and Horatio Bakkus.
Soon afterwards, therefore, behold me on my way to Clermont-Ferrand, of which manufacturing town Royat is a suburb.
Without desiring to interfere with the sale of guide-books, I may say that Clermont-Ferrand is a great big town, the principal city of Auvergne, and devotes itself to turning out all sorts of things from its factories such as Michelin and Berguignan tyres, and all sorts of young lawyers, doctors and schoolmasters from its university. It proudly claims Blaise Pascal as its distinguished son. It has gardens and broad walks and terraces along the old ramparts, whence one can see the round-backed pride (with its little pip on the top) of the encircling mountain range, the Puy de Dome; and it also has a wilderness of smelly, narrow little streets with fine old seventeenth-century mansions hidden in mouldering court-yards behind dilapidated portes cocheres; it has a beautiful romanesque Church in a hollow, and, on an eminence, an uninteresting restored cathedral whose twin spires dominate the town for miles around. By way of a main entrance, it has a great open square, the Place de Jaude, the clanging ganglion of its tramway system, about which are situated the municipal theatre and the chief cafes, and from which radiate the main arteries of the city. On the entrance side rises a vast mass of sculpture surmounted by a statue of Vercingetorix, the hero of those parts, the gentleman over whose name we have all broken our teeth when learning to construe Caesar "De Bello Gallico." Passing him by for the first time, I should have liked to shake hands with him for old times' sake, to show my lack of ill feeling.
Now that you all know about Clermont-Ferrand, as the ancient writers say, I will tell you about Royat. You take a tram from Vercingetorix and after a straight mile you are landed at the foot of a cup of the aforesaid encircling mountains, and, looking around, when the tram refuses to go any further owing to lack of rails, you perceive that you are in Royat-les-Bains. It consists, on the ground floor, as it were, of a white Etablissement des Bains surrounded by a little park, which is fringed on the further side by an open-air concert platform and a theatre, of a few rows of shops, and a couple of cafes. You could play catch with a cricket ball across it. The hotels are perched around on the slopes of the hills, so that you may enter stately portals among the shops, but shall be whirled upwards in a lift to the main floor, whence you look down on the green and tidy miniature place.
From my room in the Royat Palace Hotel I had a view across the Park, beyond which I could see the black crowds pouring out of the Clermont-Ferrand trams. The reason for this frenzied going and coming of human beings between Clermont-Ferrand and Royat, I could never understand. I believe tram-riding is a hideous vice. Just connect up by tramlines a place no one ever wants to go to with another no one ever wants to go from, and in a week you will have the inhabitants of those respective Sleepy Hollows running to and fro with the strenuous aimlessness of ants. Progressive politicians will talk to you of the wonders of transport. Well, transport or madness, what does it matter? I mean what does it matter to the course of this narrative?
I had a pleasant room, I say, with a good view blocked above the tram terminus by a vine-clad mountain. I called on a learned gentleman who knew all about hearts and blood pressures, he prescribed baths and unpleasant waters, and my cure began. All this by way of preamble to the statement that I had comfortably settled down in Royat a week before Les Petit Patou were billed to appear in Clermont-Ferrand. Having nothing in the world to do save attend to my internal organs, I spent much time in the old town, which I had not visited for many years, match-hunting (with indifferent success) being at first my main practical pursuit. Then a natural curiosity leading me to enquire the whereabouts of the chief music-halls and vacant ignorance manifesting itself on the faces of the policemen and waiters whom I interrogated, I abandoned matches for the chase of music-halls. Eventually I became aware that I was pursuing a phantom. There were no music-halls. All had been perverted into picture palaces. I read Lackaday's letter again. There it was as clear as print.
"So we proceed on our pilgrimage; we are booked for Clermont-Ferrand for the third week in August. I hate it—because I hate it. But I'm looking forward to it because my now prosperous friend Bakkus has arranged to sing during my stay there, at the Casino of Royat."
And sure enough the next day, they stuck up bills by the park gates announcing the coming of the celebrated tenor, Monsieur Horatio Bakkus.
It was only later that the great flaming poster of a circus—The Cirque Vendramin—which had pitched its tent for a fortnight past at Clermont-Ferrand, caught my eye. There it was, amid announcements of all sorts of clowns and trapezists and Japanese acrobats:
"Special engagement of the world famed eccentrics, Les Petit Patou."
If I uttered profane words, I am sure the Recording Angel followed an immortal precedent.
In order to spy out the land, I went then and there to the afternoon performance. The circus was pitched in a disgruntled field somewhere near the dismally remote railway station. The tent was crowded with the good inhabitants of Clermont-Ferrand who, since they could not buy sugar or matches or coal for cooking, must spend their money somewhere. I scarcely had entered a circus since the good old days of the Cirque Rocambeau. And what a difference! They had a few uninspiring horses and riders for convention sake. But the haute ecole had vanished. Not even a rouged and painted ghost of Mademoiselle Renee Saint-Maur remained. It was a ragged, old-fashioned acrobatic entertainment, with the mildewed humour of antiquated clowns. But they had a star turn—a juggler of the school of Cinquevallis—an amazing fellow. And then I remembered having seen the name on the last week's bill, printed in the great eighteen inch letters which were now devoted to Les Petit Patou.
Next week Lackaday would be the star turn. But still...
I went back to Royat feeling miserable. I was not elated by finding a letter from Lady Auriol which had been forwarded from my St. James's Street chambers. She was in Paris organising something in connection with the devastated districts. She reproached me for not having answered a letter written a month ago, written at her ancestral home where she had been summoned to her father's gouty chair side. I might, she said, have had the politeness to send a line of condolence.... Well, I might: but whether to her or to Lord Mountshire, whose gout was famous in the early nineties, I did not know. Yes, I ought to have answered her letter. But then, you see, I am a villainous correspondent: I was running about, and doctors were worrying me: and I could not have answered without lying about Andrew Lackaday who, leaving her without news of himself, had apparently vanished from her ken. She had asked me all sorts of pointed questions about Lackaday which I, having by that time read his manuscript, found very embarrassing to answer. Of course I intended to write. One always does, in such cases. There was nothing for it now but to make immediate and honourable amends.
I explained my lack of courtesy, as best I could, bewailed her father's gout and her dreary ministrations on that afflicted nobleman, regretted incidentally her lack of news of the gallant General and spread myself over my own sufferings and my boredom in a little hole of a place, where no one was to be seen under the age of seventy-three—drew, I flattered myself, rather a smart picture of the useless and gasping ancients flocking pathetically to the futile Fons Juventutis (and what business had they to be alive anyhow during this world food shortage?) and then, commending her devotion to the distressed and homeless, expressed the warm hope that I should meet her in Paris on my way back to England.
It was the letter of a friend and a man of the world. It put me into a better humour with myself. I dined well on the broad terrace of the hotel, smoked a cigar in defiance of doctor's orders, and after an instructive gastronomical discussion with a comfortable old Bordeaux merchant with whom I had picked acquaintance, went to bed in a selfishly contented frame of mind.
Two or three mornings later, going by tram into Clermont-Ferrand and passing by the great cafe on the east side of the Place de Jaude opposite the statue of Vercingetorix, I ran literally, stumbling over long legs outstretched from his chair to the public danger, into Andrew Lackaday. It was only at the instant of disentanglement and mutual apologies that we were aware of each other. He sprang to his great height and held out-both his long arms, and grinned happily.
"My dear fellow, what a delight. Fancy seeing you here! Elodie——"
If he had given me time, I should have recognized her before he spoke. There she was in the flesh—in a great deal of flesh—more even than I had pictured. She had a coarse, dark face, with the good humour written on it that loose features and kind soft eyes are able so often to express—and white teeth rather too much emphasized by carmined lips above which grew the faint black down of many women of the South. She was dressed quite tastefully: white felt hat, white skirt, and a silken knitted yellow chandail.
"Elodie—I present Monsieur le Capitaine Hylton, of whom you have heard me speak so much." To me—"Madame Patou," said he.
"Madame," said I. We shook hands. I professed enchantment.
"I have spoken much about you to Captain Hylton," said Lackaday quickly.
"So it seems," said I, following the good fellow's lead, "as if I were renewing an old acquaintance."
"But you speak French like a Frenchman," cried Elodie.
"It is my sole claim, Madame," said I, "to your consideration."
She laughed, obviously pleased, and invited me to sit. The waiter came up. What would I have? I murmured "Amer Picon—Curacoa," the most delectable ante-meal beverage left in France now that absinthe is as extinct as the stuff wherewith the good Vercingetorix used to gladden his captains after a successful bout with Caesar. Elodie laughed again and called me a true Parisian. I made the regulation reply to the compliment. I could see that we became instant friends.
"Mais, mon cher ami," said Lackaday, "you haven't answered my question. What are you doing here in Clermont-Ferrand?"
"Didn't I write to you?"
I hadn't. I had meant to—just as I had meant to write to Auriol Dayne.
I wonder whether, in that Final Court from which I have not heard of any theologian suggesting the possibility of Appeal, they will bring up against me all the unanswered letters of my life? If they do, then certainly shall I be a Condemned Spirit.
I explained airily—just as I have explained to you.
"Coincidences of the heart, Madame," said I.
She turned to Andrew. "He has said that just like Horace."
I realized the compliment. I liked Elodie. Dress her at whatever Rue de la Paix rag-swindler's that you pleased, you would never metamorphose the daughter of the people that she was into the lady at ease in all company. She was a bit mannieree—on her best behaviour. But she had the Frenchwoman's instinctive knowledge of conduct. She conveyed, very charmingly, her welcome to me as a friend of Andrew's.
"Horace—that's my friend Bakkus I've told you about," said Lackaday. "He'll be here to-morrow. I should so much like you to meet him."
"I'm looking forward," said I, "to the opportunity."
We talked on indifferent subjects; and in the meanwhile I observed Lackaday closely. He seemed tired and careworn. The bush of carroty hair over his ears had gone a yellowish grey and more lines seamed his ugly and rugged face. He was neatly enough dressed in grey flannels, but he wore on his head the latest model of a French straw hat—the French hatter, left to his own devices, has ever been the maddest of his tribe—a high, coarsely woven crown surrounded by a quarter inch brim which related him much more nearly to Petit Patou than to the British General of Brigade. His delicate fingers nervously played with cigarette or glass stem. He gave me the impression of a man holding insecurely on to intelligible life.
Mild hunger translating itself into a conception of the brain, I looked at my watch. I waved a hand to the row of waiting cabs with linen canopies on the other side of the blazing square.
"Madame," said I, "let me have the pleasure of driving you to Royat and offering you dejeuner."
"My dear chap," said Andrew, "impossible. We play this afternoon. Twice a day, worse luck. We have all sorts of things to arrange."
Elodie broke in. They had arranged everything already that morning. Their turn did not arrive till three-forty. There was time for a dozen lunches; especially since she would go early and see that everything was prepared. She excused herself to me in the charmingest way possible. Another day she might perhaps, with my permission, have the pleasure. But to-day she insisted on Andre lunching with me alone. We must have a thousand things to say to each other.
"Tenez," she smiled, rising. "I leave you. There's not a word to be said. Monsieur le Capitaine, see that the General eats instead of talking too much." She beamed. "Au grand plaisir de vous revoir."
We stood bare-headed and shook hands and watched her make a gracious exit. As soon as she crossed the tram-lines, she turned and waved her fingers at me.
"A charming woman," said I.
Lackaday smiled in his sad babyish way.
"Indeed she is," said he.
We drove into Royat in one of the cool, white canopied victorias.
"You know we are playing in a circus," he said, indicating a huge play bill on the side of a wall.
"Yes," said I. "On revient toujours a ses premieres amours."
"It's not that, God knows," he replied soberly. "But we were out for these two weeks of our tour. One can't pick and choose nowadays. The eccentric comedian will soon be as dead as his ancestor, the Court Jester. The war has almost wiped us out. Those music-halls—of the Variety type—that have not been turned, through lack of artists, into picture palaces, are now given over to Revue. I have been here at Clermont-Ferrand many times—but now," he shrugged his shoulders. "I had an engagement—at my ordinary music-hall terms—offered me at the Cirque Vendramin to fill in the blank weeks, and I couldn't afford to refuse. That's why, my friend, you see me now, where you first met me, in a circus."
"And Madame Patou?" said I.
"I'm afraid," he sighed, "it is rather a come down for Elodie."
We reached the hotel and lunched on the terrace, and I did my best, with the aid of the maitre d'hotel, to carry out the lady's injunctions. As a matter of fact, she need not have feared that he should miss sustenance through excessive garrulity. He seemed ill at ease during the meal and I did most of the talking. It was only after coffee and the last drop of the last bottle in the hotel—one of the last, alas! in France—of the real ancient Chartreuse of the Grand Chartreux, that he made some sort of avowal or explanation. After beating about the bush a bit, he came to the heart of the matter.
"I thought the whole war was axed out of my life—with everyone I knew in it or through it. I wrote all that stuff about myself because I couldn't help it. It enabled me to find my balance, to keep myself sane. I had to bridge over—connect somehow—the Andrew Lackaday of 1914 with the Andrew Lackaday of 1919. A couple of months ago, I thought of sending it to you. You know my beginnings and my dear old father Ben Flint and so forth. You came bang into the middle of my most intimate life. I knew in what honour and affection you were held among those whom I—to whom I—am infinitely devoted. I..." He paused a moment, and tugged hard at his cigar and regarded me with bent brows and compressed lips of his parade manner. "I am a man of few friendships. I gave you my unreserved friendship—it may not be worth much—but there it is." He glared at me as though he were defying me to mortal combat, and when I tried to get in a timid word he wiped it out of my mouth with a gesture. "I wanted you to know the whole truth about me. Once I never thought about myself. I wasn't worth thinking about. But the war came. And the war ended. And I'm so upside down that I'm bound to think about myself and clear up myself, in the eyes of the only human being that could understand—namely you—or go mad. But I never reckoned to see you again in the flesh. Our lives were apart as the poles. It was in my head to write to you something to that effect, when I should receive an answer to my last letter. I never dreamed that you should meet me now, as I am."
"It never occurred to you that I might value your friendship and take a little trouble to seek you out?"
"I must confess," said he, "that I did not suspect that anyone, even you, would have thought it worth while."
I laughed. He was such a delicious simpleton. So long as he could regard me as someone on the other side of the grave, he could reveal to me the intimacies of his emotional life; but as soon as he realized his confidant in the flesh, embarrassment and confusion overwhelmed him. And, ostrich again, thinking that, once his head was hidden in the sands of Petit Patouism, he would be invisible to mortal eye, he had persuaded himself that his friends would concur in his supposed invisibility.
"My dear fellow," I said, "why all this apologia? As to your having ever told me or written to me about yourself I have kept the closest secrecy. Not a human soul knows through me the identity of General Lackaday with Petit Patou. No," I repeated, meeting his eyes under his bent brows, "not a human being knows even of our first meeting in the Cirque Rocambeau—and as for Madame Patou, whom you have made me think of always as Elodie—well—my discretion goes without saying. And as for putting into shape your reminiscences—I shouldn't dream of letting anyone see my manuscript before it had passed through your hands. If you like I'll tear the whole thing up and it will all be buried in that vast oblivion of human affairs of which I am only too temperamentally capable."
He threw his cigar over the balustrade of the terrace and stretched out his long legs, his hands in his pockets and grinned.
"No, don't do that. One of these days I might be amused to read it. Besides, it took me such a devil of a time to write. It was good of you to keep things to yourself although I laid down no conditions of secrecy. I might have known it." He stared at the hill-side opposite, with its zigzag path through the vines marked by the figures of zealous pedestrians, and then he said suddenly: "If I asked you not to come and see our show you would set me down as a fantastical coward."
I protested. "How could I, after all you have told me?"
"I want you to come. Not to-day. Things might be in a muddle. One never knows. But to-morrow. It will do me good."
I promised. We chatted a little longer and then he rose to go. I accompanied him to the tram, his long lean body overwhelming my somewhat fleshy insignificance. And while I walked with him I thought: "Why is it that I can't tell a man who confides to me his inmost secrets, to buy, for God's sake, another hat?"
The following afternoon, I went to the Cirque Vendramin. I sat in a front seat. I saw the performance. It was much as I have already described to you. Except perhaps for his height and ungainliness no one could have recognized Andrew Lackaday in the painted clown Petit Patou. His grotesquery of appearance was terrific. From the tip of his red pointed wig to the bottom of his high heels he must have been eight feet. I should imagine him to have been out of scale on the music-hall stage. But in the ring he was perfect. The mastery of his craft, the cleanness of his jugglery, amazed me. He divested himself of his wig and did a five minutes' act of lightning impersonation with a trick felt hat, the descendant of the Chapeau de Tabarin: the ex-Kaiser, Foch, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, President Wilson—a Boche prisoner, a helmeted Tommy, a Poilu—which was marvellous, considering the painted Petit Patou face. For all assistance, Elodie held up a cheap bedroom wall-mirror. He played his one-stringed fiddle. I admired the technical perfection of the famous cigar-act. I noted the stupid bewilderment with which he received a typhoon of hoops thrown by Elodie, and his waggish leer when, clown-wise, he had caught them all. If the audience packed within the canvas amphitheatre had gone mad in applause over this exhibition of exquisite skill interlarded with witty patter, I might have been carried away into enthusiastic appreciation of a great art. But the audience, as far as applause could be the criterion, missed the exquisiteness of it, guffawed only at the broadest clowning and applauded finally just enough to keep up the heart of the management and Les Petit Patou. I have seen many harrowing things in the course of a complicated life; but this I reckon was one of the chief among them.
I thought of the scene a year ago, at Mansfield Park. The distinguished soldier with his rainbow row of ribbons modestly confused by Evadne's summons to the household on his appointment to the Brigade; the English setting; the old red gabled Manor house; the green lawn; the bright English faces of old Sir Julian and his wife, of young Charles the hero worshipper; the light in Auriol's eyes; the funny little half-ashamed English ceremony; again the gaunt, grim, yet childishly smiling figure in khaki, the ideal of the scarred and proven English leader of men....
The scene shimmered before me and then I realized the same man in his abominable travesty of God's image, bowing before the tepid plaudits of an alien bourgeoisie in a filthy, smelly canvas circus, and I tell you I felt the agony that comes when time has dried up within one the fount of tears.
Soon afterwards I met Horatio Bakkus. With his white hair, ascetic, clean-shaved face and deep dark eyes he looked like an Italian ecclesiastic. One's glance instinctively sought the tonsure. He would come forward on to the open-air platform beneath the thick foliage of the park with the detached mien of a hierophant; and there he would sing like an angel, one of those who quire to the youngest-eyed cherubim so as not to wake them. When I made him my modest compliment he said:
"Trick, my dear sir. Trick and laziness. I might have had the bel canto, if I had toiled interminably; but, thank God, I've managed to carry through on self-indulgent sloth."
As he lived at Royat I saw much of him alone, Royat being such a wee place that if two sojourners venture simultaneously abroad they must of necessity meet. I found him as Lackaday had described him, a widely read scholar and an amiable and cynical companion. But in addition to these casual encounters, I was thrown daily into his society with Lackaday and Elodie. We arranged always to lunch together, Lackaday, Bakkus and myself taking it in turns to be hosts at our respective hotels. Now and then Elodie insisted on breaking the routine and acting as hostess at a restaurant in Clermont-Ferrand. It was all very pleasant. The only woman to three men, Elodie preened herself with amusing obviousness and set out to make herself agreeable. She did it with a Frenchwoman's natural grace. But as soon as the talk drifted into anything allusive to war or books or art or politics, she manifested an ignorance abysmal in its profundity. I was amazed that a woman should have been for years the intimate companion of two men like Lackaday and Bakkus without picking up some superficial knowledge of the matters they discussed. And I was interested, even to the pitch of my amazement, to behold the deference of both men, when her polite and vacant smile proclaimed her inability to follow the conversation. Invariably one of them would leave me to the other and turn to Elodie. It was Bakkus more often who thus broke away. He had the quick impish faculty, one of the rarest of social gifts, of suddenly arresting a woman's attention by a phrase, apparently irrelevant, yet to her woman's jumping mind relevant to the matter under dispute and of carrying it off into a pleasant feminine sphere. It was impish, and I believe deliberately so, for on such occasions one could catch the ironic gleam in his eyes. The man's sincere devotion to both of them was obvious.
"Madame Patou..." I began one day, at lunch—we were talking of the tyranny of fashion, even in the idyllic lands where ladies are fully dressed in teeth necklaces and yellow ochre—"Madame Patou..."
She threw up her hands. We were lunching very well—the petit vin of Auvergne is delicious—"Mais voyons donc—why all this ceremony among friends? Here we are, we three, and it is Andre, Horace, Elodie—and here we are, we four, and it is Monsieur Bakkus, and Lackaday—never will I be able to pronounce that word—and Madame Patou and Monsieur le Capitaine Hylton. Look. To my friends I am Elodie tout court—and you?"
It was an embarrassing moment. Andrew's mug of a face was as expressionless as that of a sphinx. He would no more have dreamed of addressing me by my Christian name than of hailing Field-Marshal Haig as Douglas. White-haired, thin-lipped Bakkus smiled sardonically. But there was no help for it.
"My very intimate friends call me Tony," said I.
"To-ny," she echoed. "But it is charming, To-ny. A votre sante, To-ny."
She held put her glass—I was sitting next to her. I clinked mine politely.
"To the health of the charming Elodie."
She was delighted. Made us all clink glasses. Bakkus said, in English:
"To the abolition of Misters, in obedience to the Lady."
"And now," cried Elodie, "what were you going to say about fashions in necklaces made of dogs' teeth?"
We pursued our frivolous talk. Bakkus said:
"The whole of the Fall of Man arose from Eve pestering Adam for a russet-brown fig-leaf in spring time."
"It was after the fall that they made themselves aprons," said Lackaday.
"She had her eye on those fig-leaves long before," retorted Bakkus.
We laughed. There was no great provocation to mirth. But we were attuned to gaiety. My three friends were lunching with me on the terrace of the Royat Palace Hotel. It is a long, wide terrace, reaching the whole width of the facade of the building, and doors lead on to it from all the public rooms. Only half of it, directly accessible from the salle a manger is given over to restaurant tables. Ours was on the outskirts. I like to be free, to have plenty of room and air; especially on a broiling August day. We were in cool shade. A few feet below us stretched a lower terrace, with grass-plots and flowers and a fountain and gaily awned garden seats and umbrella-shaded chairs. And there over the parapet the vine-clad hill quivered in the sunshine against the blue summer sky, and around us were cheerful folk at lunch forgetful of hearts and blood-pressure in the warm beauty of the day. Perhaps now and then a stern and elderly French couple—he stolid, strongly bearded and decorated, she thin and brown, over-coiffured and over-ringed—with an elderly angular daughter, hard to marry, regarded us with eyes of disapproval. Elodie in happy mood threw off restraint, as, in more private and intimate surroundings, she would have thrown off her corset. But we cared not for the disapproval of the correct French profiteers....
"If they tried to smile," said Elodie, incidentally, "they would burst and all the gold would drop out."
Lackaday threw back his head and laughed—the first real, hearty laugh I had seen him exhibit since I had met him in France. You see the day, the food, the wine, the silly talk, the dancing wit of Bakkus, the delightful comradeship, had brought the four of us into a little atmosphere of joyousness. There was nothing very intellectual about it. In the hideous realm of pure intellectuality there could not exist even the hardiest ghost of a smile. Laughter, like love, is an expression of man's vehement revolt against reason. So Andrew Lackaday threw himself back in his chair and laughed at Elodie's quip.
But suddenly, as if some blasting hand had smitten him, his laughter ceased. His jaw dropped for a second and then snapped like a vice. He was sitting on my left hand, his back to the balustrade, and facing the dining-room. At the sight of him we all instinctively sobered and bent forward in questioning astonishment. He recovered himself quickly and tried to smile as if nothing had happened—but, seeing his eyes had been fixed on something behind me, I turned round.
And there, calmly walking up the long terrace towards us, was Lady Auriol Dayne.
I sprang from my chair and strode swiftly to meet her. From a grating sound behind me I knew that Lackaday had also risen. I stretched out my hand mechanically and, regardless of manners, I said:
"What the devil are you doing here?"
She withdrew the hand that she too had put forward.
"That's a nice sort of welcome."
"I'm sorry," said I. "Please consider the question put more politely."
"Well, I'm here," she replied, "because it happens to be my good pleasure."
"Then I hope you'll find lots of pleasure, my dear Auriol."
She laughed, standing as cool as you please, very grateful to the eye in tussore coat and skirt, with open-necked blouse, and some kind of rakish hat displaying her thick auburn hair in defiance of the fashion which decreed concealment even of eyebrows with flower-pot head gear. She laughed easily, mockingly, although she saw plainly the pikestaff of a Lackaday upright a few yards away from her, in a rigid attitude of parade.
"Anyhow," she said, "I must go and say how d'ye do to the General."
I gave way to her. We walked side by side to the table. She advanced to him in the most unconcerned manner. Bakkus rose politely.
"My dear General, fancy seeing you here! How delightful."
I have never seen a man's eyes devour a woman with such idiotic obviousness.
"Lady Auriol," said he, "you are the last person I ever thought of meeting." He paused for a second. Then, "May I have the pleasure of introducing—Madame Patou—Lady Auriol Dayne—Mr. Bakkus—"
"Do sit down, please, everybody," said Auriol, after the introductions. "I feel like a common nuisance. But I came by the night train and went to sleep and only woke up to find myself just in time for the fag-end of lunch."
"I am host," said I. "Won't you join us?"
What else was there to do? She glanced at me with smiling inscrutability.
"You're awfully kind, Tony. But I'm disturbing you."
The maitre d'hotel and waiter with a twist of legerdemain set her place between myself and Lackaday.
"This is a charming spot, isn't it, Madame Patou?" she remarked.
Elodie, who had regarded her wonderingly as though she had bean a creature of another world, bowed and smiled.
"We all talk French, my dear Auriol," said I, "because Madame Patou knows no English."
"Ah!" said Lady Auriol. "I never thought of it." She translated her remark. "I'm afraid my French is that of the British Army, where I learned most of it. But if people are kind and patient I can make myself understood."
"Mademoiselle speaks French very well," replied Elodie politely.
"You are very good to say so, Madame."
I caught questioning, challenging glances flashing across the table, each woman hostilely striving to place the other. You see, we originally sat: Elodie on my right hand, then Bakkus facing straight down the terrace, then Lackaday, then myself. It occurred to me at once that, with her knowledge of my convention-trained habits, she would argue that, at a luncheon party, either I would not have placed the lady next the man to whom she belonged, or that she was a perfectly independent guest, belonging, so to speak, to nobody. But on the latter hypothesis, what was she doing in this galley? I swear I saw the wrinkle on Lady Auriol's brow betokening the dilemma. She had known me from childhood's days of lapsed memory. I had always been. Romantically she knew Lackaday. Horatio Bakkus, with his sacerdotal air and well-bred speech and manner, evidently belonged to our own social class. But Madame Patou, who mopped up the sauce on her plate with a bit of bread, and made broad use of a toothpick, and leaned back and fanned herself with her napkin and breathed a "Mon Dieu, qu'ilfait chaud" and contributed nothing intelligent to the conversation, she could not accept as the detached lady invited by me to charm my two male guests. She was then driven to the former hypothesis. Madame Patou belonged in some way to the man by whose side she was not seated.
Of course, there was another alternative. I might have been responsible for the poor lady. But she was as artless as a poor lady could be. Addressing my two friends it was always Andre and Horace, and instinctively she used the familiar "tu." Addressing me she had affrightedly forgotten the pact of Christian names, and it was "Monsieur le Capitaine" and, of course, the "vous" which she had never dreamed of changing. Even so poor a French scholar as Lady Auriol could not be misled into such absurd paths of conjecture.
She belonged therefore, in some sort of fashion, to General Lackaday. An elderly man of the world, with his nerves on edge, has no need of wizardry to divine the psychology of such a situation.
Mistress of social forms, Lady Auriol, after sweeping Elodie into her net, caught Horatio Bakkus and through reference to her own hospital experiences during the war, wrung from him the avowal of his concerts for the wounded in Paris.
"How splendid of you! By the way, how do you spell your name? It's an uncommon one."
"With two k's."
"I wonder if you have anything to do with an old friend of my fattier, Archdeacon Bakkus?"
"My eldest brother."
"No, really? One of my earliest recollections is his buying a prize boar from my father."
"Just like the dear fellow's prodigality," said Bakkus. "He had a whole Archdeaconry to his hand for nothing. I've lately spent a couple of months with him in Westmorland, so I know."
"How small the world is," said Lady Auriol to Lackaday.
"Too small," said he.
"Oh," said Auriol blankly.
"Have you seen our good friends, the Verity-Stewarts lately?"
She had. They were in perfect health. They were wondering what had become of him.
"And indeed, General," she flashed, "what has become of you?"
"It is not good," said Elodie, in quick anticipation, "that the General should neglect his English friends."
There sounded the note of proprietorship, audible to anybody. Auriol's eyes dwelt for a second on Elodie; then she turned to Lackaday.
"Madame Patou is quite right."
Said he, with one of his rare flights into imagery, "I was but a shooting star across the English firmament."
"Encore une etoile qui file, File, file et disparait!"
"Oh no, my dear friend," laughed Bakkus. "He can't persuade us, Lady Auriol, that he is afflicted with the morbidezza of 1830."
"Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela?" asked Elodie, sharply.
"It was a fashion long ago, my dear, for poets to assume the gaiety of a funeral. Even Beranger who wrote Le Roi d'Yvetot—you know it—"
"Naturally, 'Il etait un roi d'Yvetot!'"—cried Elodie, who had learned it at school.
"Well—of course. Even Beranger could not escape the malady of his generation. Do you remember"—his swift glance embraced us all—"Longfellow's criticism of European poets of that epoch, in his prose masterpiece, Hyperion? He refers to Salis and Matthisson, but Lamartine and people of his kidney come in—'Melancholy gentlemen' pardon, my dear Elodie, if I quote it in English—'Melancholy gentlemen to whom life was only a dismal swamp, upon whose margin they walked with cambric handkerchiefs in their hands, sobbing and sighing and making signals to Death to come and ferry them over the lake.' Cela veut dire," he made a marvellous French paraphrase for Elodie's benefit.
"Comprends pas," she shrugged at the boredom of literary allusion. "I don't see what all that has to do with Andre. I shall see, Mademoiselle, that he writes to his friends."
"You will be doing them a great service, Madame," replied Auriol.
There was a stiff silence. If Bakkus had stuck to his intention of driving the conversation away from embarrassing personal questions, instead of being polite to Elodie, we should have been spared this freezing moment of self-consciousness. I asked Auriol whether she had had a pleasant journey, and we discussed the discomfort of trains. From then to the end of the meal the conversation halted. It was a relief to rise and fall into groups as we strolled down the terrace to coffee. I manoeuvred Elodie and Bakkus to the front leaving Auriol and Lackaday to follow. I sought a table at the far end, for coffee; but when I turned round, I discovered that the pair had descended by the mid-way flight of three or four steps to the grass-plotted and fountained terrace below.
We sat down. Elodie asked:
"Who is that lady?"
I explained as best I could. "She is the daughter of an English nobleman, whence her title. The way to address her is 'Lady Auriol.' She did lots of work during the war, work of hospital organization in France, and now she is still working for France. I have known her since she was three years old; so she is a very great friend of mine."
Her eyes wandered to the bit of red thatched head and the gleam of the crown of a white hat just visible over the balustrade.
"She appears also to be a great friend of Andre."
"The General met many charming ladies during his stay in England," I lied cheerfully.
"Which means," she said with a toss of her head and an ironical smile, "that the General behaved like a real—who was it, Horace, who loved women so much? Ah oui—like a real Don Juan." She wagged her plump forefinger. "Oh no, I know my Andre."
"I could tell you stories—" said I.
"Which would not be true."
She laughed in a forced way—and her eyes again sought the tops of the couple promenading in the sunshine. She resumed her catechism.
"How old is she?"
"I don't know exactly."
"But since you have known her since she was three years old?"
"If I began to count years at my time of life," said I, "I should die of fright."
"She looks about thirty. Wouldn't you say so, Horace? It is droll that she has not married. Why?"
"Before the war she was a great traveller. She has been by herself all over the world in all sorts of places among wild tribes and savages. She has been far too busy to think of marriage."
Elodie looked incredulous. "One has always one's moments perdus."
"One doesn't marry in odd moments," said I.
"You and Horace are old bachelors who know nothing at all about it. Tell me. Is she very rich?"
"None of our old families are very rich nowadays," I replied, rather at a loss to account, save on the score of feminine curiosity, for this examination. If it had not been for her mother who left her a small fortune of a thousand or so a year, Auriol would have been as penniless as her two married sisters. Her brother, Lord Vintrey, once a wastrel subaltern of Household Cavalry, and, after a dashing, redeeming war record, now an expensive Lieutenant-Colonel, ate up all the ready money that Lord Mountshire could screw out of his estates. With Elodie I could not enter into these explanations.
"All the same she is passably rich," Elodie persisted. "One does not buy a costume like that under five hundred francs."
The crimson vested and sashed and tarbooshed Algerian negro brought the coffee, and poured out the five cups. We sipped. I noticed Elodie's hand shake.
"If their coffee gets cold, so much the worse."
Bakkus, who had maintained a discreet silence hitherto, remarked:—
"Unless Andrew's head is particularly thick, he'll get a sunstroke in this blazing sun."
"That's true," cried Elodie and, rising with a great scraping of chair, she rushed to the balustrade and addressed him shrilly.
"Mais dis donc Andre, tu veux attraper un coup de soleil?"
We heard his voice in reply: "Nous rentrons."
A few moments afterwards they mounted from the lower terrace and came towards us. Lackaday's face was set in one of its tight-lipped expressionless moods. Lady Auriol's cheek was flushed, and though she smiled conventional greeting, her eyes were very serious.
"I am sorry to have put into danger the General's health, madame," said she in her clear and British French. "But when two comrades of the Great War meet for the first time, one is forgetful."
She gave me a little sign rejecting the offered coffee. Lackaday took his cup and drank it off at one gulp. He looked at his wrist watch, the only remaining insignia of the British soldier.
"Time for our tram, Elodie."
"C'est vrai?" He held his wrist towards her. "Oui, mon Dieu! Miladi—" She funked the difficult "Lady Auriol."
"Au revoir, Madame," said Auriol shaking hands.
"Trop honoree," said Elodie, somewhat defiantly. "Au revoir, Miladi." She made an awkward little bow. "Et toi," she extended a careless left hand to Bakkus.
"I will see you to the lift," said I.
We walked down the terrace in silence to the salon door just inside which was the lift which took one down some four stories to the street. Two things were obvious: the perturbation of the simple Lackaday and the jealousy of Elodie.
"Au revoir, monsieur, et merci," she said, with over emphasized politeness, as we stood at the lift gates.
"Good-bye, old chap," said Lackaday and gripped my hand hard.
As soon as I returned to the end of the terrace, Bakkus rose and took his leave. Auriol and I were alone. Of course other humans were clustering round tables all the length of the terrace. But we had our little end corner to ourselves. I sat down next to her.
"Well?" said I.
She bent forward, and her face was that of the woman whom I had met in the rain and mud and stark reality of the war.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
If a glance could destroy, if Lady Auriol had been a Gorgon or a basilisk or a cockatrice, then had I been a slain Anthony Hylton.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
The far-flung gesture of her arm ending in outspread fingers might have been that of Elodie.
"Tell you what, my dear?" said I.
"The whole wretched tragedy. I came to you a year ago with my heart in my hand—the only human creature living who I thought could help me. And you've let me down like this. It's damnable!"
"An honourable man," said I, nettled, "doesn't betray confidences."
"An honourable man! I like that! I gave you my confidences. Haven't you betrayed them?"
"Not a bit," said I. "Not the faintest hint of what you have said to me have I whispered into the ear of man or woman."
She fumed. "If you had, you would be—unmentionable."
"Precisely. And I should have been equally undeserving of mention, if I had told you of the secret, or double, or ex-war—however you like to describe it—life of our friend."
"The thing is not on all fours," she said with a snap of her fingers. "You could have given me the key to the mystery—such as it is. You could have prevented me from making a fool of myself. You could, Tony. From the very start."