William J. Locke
Part 4 out of 6
as to Generals, but her illusions as to Andrew and British military
prestige. It was a strange army that no longer acknowledged its high
commanders--a strange country that could scrap them. Were British Generals
real, like French Generals, Lyautey and Manoury and Foch before he became
_Marechal?_ She was bitterly disappointed. She had lived for nearly a
year in Andrew's glory. Now there seemed to be no shine in it whatever. He
wore no uniform. He received no pay. He was a mere civilian. He had to work
for his living like any demobilized poilu who returned to his counter or
his conductor's step on the tramway. And she had made such a flourish among
all her acquaintance over _son mari le general_. She went off by
herself and wept.
The cook whom she had engaged, coming to lay the cloth in the tiny
dining-room found her sobbing with her arms on the table. What was the
matter with Madame?
"_Ah, ma pauvre Ernestine, je suis bien malheureuse_."
Ernestine could think of only one cause for a lady's unhappiness. Had
Monsieur le General then been making her infidelities? All allowances
should be made for the war. On every side she had heard tales of the
effects of such long separations. But, on the other hand, she had heard of
many reconciliations. Apply a little goodwill--that was all. Monsieur le
General was a man, _comme tout le monde_. She was certain that the
object of his warrior fancy was not worth Madame--and he would quickly
realize the fact. She only had to make much of him and give him everything
he liked to eat. As soon as the stream of words ceased Elodie vehemently
denounced the disgusting state of her mind. She must have a foul character
to think such things. She bade her haughtily to mind her own business. Why
then, asked the outraged Ernestine, did Madame declare she was miserable?
To invite sympathy and then reject it did not argue a fine character on the
part of Madame. Also when a woman sits down and weeps like a cow, _mon
Dieu_, there must be a reason. Perhaps if Monsieur was not at fault,
"I order you to be silent," stormed Elodie, interrupting the intolerable
suggestion. "My reasons you couldn't possibly understand. Get on with your
work and set the table."
She made a dignified exit and returned to the _salon_ where Andrew was
"Ah, these servants--since the war! The insolence of them!"
"What have they been doing now?" he asked sympathetically.
She would not say. Why worry him with such vulgarities? But the
housekeeper's life, these days, was not an easy one. "_Tiens_," she
cried, with a swift resolve, "I'll tell you all. What you said about
yourself, a general only in name, rejected and cast on the world without
money made me very unhappy. I didn't want you to see me cry. So I went into
the _salle a manger_--"
And then a dramatic reproduction of the scene. The insolence of the woman!
Andrew rose and drew out his pocket-book.
"She shall go at once. What's her wages?"
But Elodie looked at him aghast. What? Dismiss Ernestine? He must be mad.
Ernestine, a treasure dropped from Heaven? Didn't he know that servants
did not grow like the leaves on the trees in the Champs Elysees? And
cooks--they were worth their weight in gold. In the army he could say to an
orderly "_Fiche-moi le camp_," because there were plenty of
others. But in civil life--no. She forbade him to interfere in domestic
arrangements, the nice conduct of which she had proved herself perfectly
capable of determining. And then, in her queer, twisted logic, she said,
clutching the lapels of his coat and looking up into his face:
"And it's not true what she said? You have never made me infidelities?"
He passed his delicate hand over her forehead, and smiled somewhat wearily.
"You may be sure, my dear, I have been faithful to you."
She glanced away from him, somewhat abashed. Now and then his big
simplicity frightened her. She became dimly aware that the report of the
cook's chatter had offended the never comprehended delicacies of his soul.
"_Je te demande bien pardon, Andre_."
"There's no reason for that, my dear," said he.
She went over to her birds. Andrew resumed his writing. But after a minute
or two his pen hung idle in his hand. Yes. He had spoken truly. He had been
faithful to her in that he had fled from divine temptation. For her sake he
had put the other woman and the glory that she signified out of his life.
All through the delicious intercourse, Elodie had hung at the bottom of his
heart, a dead-weight, maybe, but one which he could not in honour or common
humanity cut off. For Elodie's sake he had held himself in stern restraint,
had uttered no word that might be interpreted as that of a lover. As far as
Lady Auriol Dayne knew, as far as anyone on this earth knew, his feelings
towards her were nothing more than those of a devoted and grateful friend.
So does the well-intentioned ostrich, you may say, bury its head and
imagine itself invisible. But the ostrich is desperately sincere--and so
Presently he turned.
"If that woman says such vulgarities again, she must go at once."
"I shall see that she has no opportunity," said Elodie.
* * * * *
For a time Andrew sought in France that which he had failed to find in
England; but with even less chance of success. The gates to employment in
England had been crowded with demobilized officers. Only the fortunate, the
young content with modest beginnings, those with money enough to start new
avocations, had pushed through. These had been adventurers like himself.
The others had returned to the office or counting-house or broad acres from
which they had sprung. In France he found no employment at all; the gates
round which the demobilized wistfully gathered, led no whither. As at the
War Office, so at military head-quarters in Paris. Brass-hatted friends
wrung him warmly by the hand, condoled with his lot, and genially gave him
to understand that he stood not a dog's chance of getting in anywhere.
Why hadn't he worried the people at home for a foreign billet? There were
plenty going, but as to their nature they confessed vagueness. He had put
in for several, said he, but had always been turned down. The friends shook
their heads. In Paris nothing doing. Andrew walked away sadly. Perhaps
a spirit proof against rebuffs, a thick-skinned persistence, might have
eventually prevailed in London to set him on some career in the social
reconstruction of the world. His record stood, and needed only unblushing
flaunting before the eyes of Authority for it to be recognized. But Andrew
Lackaday, proud and sensitive, was a poor seeker after favour. All his
promotion and his honour had come unsought. He had hated the braggadocio of
the rainbow row of ribbons on his khaki tunic, which Army discipline alone
forced him to wear. It was Elodie, too, who had fixed into his buttonholes
the little red rosette of the Officer of the Legion. That at least he could
do for her.... Success, such as it was, before the war, he had attained
he knew not how. The big drum of the showman had ever been an engine of
abhorrence. Others had put him on the track of things, Elodie, Bakkus....
He had sternly suppressed vulgarity in posters. He had never intrigued like
most of his craft for press advertisement. Over and over again had Bakkus
"Raise a thousand or two and give it to me or Moignon to play with and
we'll boom you into all the capitals of the earth. There's a fortune in
But Andrew, to whom publicity was the essence of his calling, would have
none of it. He did his work and conducted his life in his own way, earnest
In the war, of course, he found his real vocation. But he passed out of
the war as unknown to the general public as any elderly Tommy in a Labour
battalion. Never a photograph of him had appeared in the illustrated
papers. The head of a great Government department, to whom Lady Auriol had
mentioned his name, had never heard of it. And when she suggested that the
State should hasten to secure the services of such men, he had replied
"Men of his distinction are as thick as blackberries. That's how we won the
Unknown to Lackaday she had tried to see what influence she could command.
Socially, as the rather wild-headed daughter of an impoverished and obscure
Earl, she could do but little. She too was a poor intriguer. She could only
demand with blatant vividness. Once on a flying visit to Lord Mountshire,
she tried to interest him in the man whom, to her indignation, he persisted
in styling her protege. He still, she urged, had friends in high places,
even in the dreadful Government at which he railed.
"Never heard of the man," he growled. "Lackaday--Lackaday--" he shook his
white head. "Who was his father?"
She confessed that she didn't know. He was alone in the world. He had
sprung from Nowhere. The old Earl refused to take any interest in him. Such
fellows always fell on their feet. Besides, he had tried to put in a word
for young Ponsonby--and had got snubbed for his pains. He wasn't going to
interfere any more.
She learned that the appointment of a soldier would be made to a vacant
colonial governorship. A certain general's recommendation would carry
weight. She passed the information on to Andrew. This she could do without
offending his pride.
"Very sorry, my dear fellow," said the General. "You're the very man for
the job. But you know what these Colonial office people are. They will have
an old regular."
As a matter of fact they appointed another Brigadier who had started the
war with a new Yeomanry commission, a member of a well-known family with a
wife who had seen to it that neither his light nor hers should be hidden
under a bushel.
In the frantic scramble for place, the inexperienced in the methods of
the scrum were as much left out in the cold as a timid old maid at what
Americans call a bargain counter. He stood lost behind the throng and his
only adviser Lady Auriol stood by his side in similar noble bewilderment.
On his appointment to a Brigade, Bakkus had written:
"I'm almost tempted to make your fortune in spite of yourself. What a
sensation! What headlines! 'Famous Variety Artist becomes a General.'
Companion pictures in the _Daily Mail_, Petit Patou and Brigadier-
General Lackaday. Everybody who had heard of Petit Patou would be mad to
hear of General Lackaday, and all who had heard of soldier Andrew would
be crazy to know about Petit Patou. You'd wake up in the morning like
Byron and find yourself famous. You'd be the darling hero of the British
Empire. But you always were a wooden-headed idiot...."
To which Andrew had replied in raging fury, to the vast entertainment of
All of this to show that, notwithstanding his supreme qualities of personal
courage, command and military intuition, Andrew Lackaday as a would-be
soldier of fortune proved a complete failure. For him, as he presented
himself, the tired world, in its nebulous schemes of reconstruction, had no
Every day, when he got home, Elodie would ask:
"_Eh bien?_ Have you found anything?"
And he would say, gaunt and worried, but smiling: "Not yet."
As the days passed her voice grew sharper, until it seemed to carry the
reproach of the wife of the labourer out of work. But she never pressed him
further. She knew his moods and his queer silences and the inadvisability
of forcing his confidence. In spite of her disappointment and disillusion,
some of the glamour still invested him. A man of mystery, inspiring
a certain awe, he frightened her a little. A No Man's Land, unknown,
terrifying, on which she dared not venture a foot, lay between them. He was
the kind and courteous ghost of the Sergeant and the Major with whom she
had made high festival during the war.
At last, one afternoon, he cast the bomb calmly at her feet.
"I've just been to see Moignon," said he.
"He says there will be no difficulty."
She turned on him her coarse puzzled face. "No difficulty in what?"
"In going back to the stage."
She sank upon the yellow and brown striped sofa by the wall and regarded
"I must do like all other demobilized men--return to my trade."
Elodie nearly fainted.
For months the prospect had hung over them like a doom; ever since the
brigade which he commanded in England had dissolved through demobilization,
and he, left in the air, had applied disastrously to the War Office for
further employment. He had seen others, almost his equal in rank, swept
relentlessly back to their old uninspiring avocations. A Bayard of a
Colonel of a glorious battalion of a famous regiment, a fellow with
decorations barred two or three times over, was now cooped up in his
solicitor's office in Lothbury, E.C., breaking his heart over the
pettifoggery of conveyances. A gallant boy, adjutant at twenty-two in the
company of which he was captain, a V.C. and God knows what else besides,
was back again in the close atmosphere of the junior department of a
Public School. One of his old seconds in command was resuming his awful
frock-coated walk down the aisles of a suburban drapery store. The flabby,
soulless octopus of civil life reached out its tentacles and dragged
all these heroic creatures into its maw of oblivion. Then another, a
distinguished actor, and a more distinguished soldier, a man with a
legendary record of fearlessness, had sloughed his armour and returned to
the theatre. That, thought he, was his own case. But no. The actor took
up the high place of histrionic fame which he had abandoned. He was the
exponent of a great art. The dual supremacy brought the public to his feet.
His appearance was the triumph both of the artist and the soldier. No. He,
Lackaday, held no such position. He recalled his first talk with Bakkus,
in which he had insisted that his mountebanking was an art, and with his
hard-gained knowledge of life rejected the sophistry. To hold an audience
spell-bound by the interpretation of great human emotion was a different
matter from making a zany of oneself and, upside down, playing a
one-stringed fiddle behind one's head, and uttering degraded sounds through
painted grinning lips in order to appeal to the inane sense of humour of
the grocer and his wife. No. There was all the difference in the world. The
comparison filled him less with consolation than with despair. The actor,
mocking the octopus below, had calmly stepped from one rock pinnacle to
another. He himself, Andrew Lackaday, in the depths, felt the irresistible
grip of the horror twining round his middle.
Put him in the midst of a seething mass of soldiery, he could command,
straighten out chaos into mechanical perfection of order, guide willing men
unquestioned into the jaws of Hell; put him on the stage of a music-hall
and he could keep six plates in the air at a time. Outside these two
spheres he could, as far as the world would try him, do nothing. He had
to live. He was young, under forty. The sap of life still ran rich in his
veins. And not only must he live, but the woman bound to him by a hundred
ties, the woman woven by an almost superstitious weft into his early
career, the woman whose impeccable loyalty as professional partner had
enabled him to make his tiny fortune, the woman whose faithful affection
had persisted through the long years of the war's enforced neglect,
the woman who without his support--unthinkable idea--would perish from
inanition--he knew her--Elodie must live, in the comfort and freedom from
anxiety to which the years of unquestioning dependence had accustomed her.
Cap and bells again; there was no other way out.
After all, perhaps it was the best and most honest. Even if he had found a
semi-military or administrative career abroad, what would become of Elodie?
Not in a material sense, of course. The same provision would be made for
her welfare as during the last five years. But the abnormal state of war
had made normal their separation. In altered circumstances would she not
have the right to cry out against his absence? Would she not be justified
in the eyes of every right-thinking man? Yet the very conditions of such an
appointment would prevent her accompanying him. The problem had appeared
insoluble. Desperately he had put off the solution till the crisis should
come. But he had felt unhappy, shrinking from the possibility of base
action. The thought of Elodie had often paralysed his energy in seeking
work. Now, however, he could face the world with a clear conscience. He had
cut himself adrift from Lady Auriol and her world. Fate linked him for ever
to Elodie. All that remained was to hide his honours and his name under the
cloak of Petit Patou.
It took him some time to convince Elodie of the necessity of returning to
the old life. She repeated her cry that Generals do not perform on the
music-hall stage. The decision outraged her sense of the fitness of things.
She yielded as to an irresistible and unreasoning force.
"And I then? Must I tour with you, as before?" she asked in dismay, for she
was conscious of increased coarseness of body and sluggishness of habit.
He frowned. "It is true I might find another assistant."
But she quickly interrupted the implied reproach. She could not fail him in
"No, no, I will go. But you will have to teach me all over again. I only
asked for information."
"We'll begin rehearsals then as soon as possible," he replied with a smile.
A few days afterwards, Bakkus, who had been absent from Paris, entered
the _salon_, with his usual unceremoniousness, and beheld an odd
spectacle. The prim chairs had been piled on the couch by the wall, the
table pushed into a corner, and on the vacant space, Elodie, in her old
dancer's practising kit, bodice and knickerbockers, once loose but now skin
tight to grotesqueness, and Andrew in under vest and old grey flannels,
were perspiringly engaged with pith balls in the elementary art of the
juggler. Elodie, on beholding him, clutched a bursting corsage with both
hands, uttered a little squeak and bolted like an overfed rabbit. Bakkus
laughed out loud.
"What the devil----? Is this the relaxation of the great or the aberrations
of the asylum?"
Andrew grinned and shook hands. "My dear old chap. I'm so glad you've come
back. Sit down." He shifted the table which blocked the way to the two
arm-chairs by the stove. "Elodie and I are getting into training for the
next campaign." He mopped his forehead, wiped his hands and, with the old
acrobat instinct, jerked the handkerchief across the room. "You're looking
very well," said he.
"I'm splendid," said Bakkus.
The singer indeed had a curiously prosperous and distinguished appearance,
due not only to a new brown suit and clean linen and well-fitting boots,
but also to a sleekness of face and person which suggested comfortable
living. His hair, now quite white, brushed back over the forehead, was
neatly trimmed. His sallow cheeks had lost their gaunt hollows, his dark
eyes, though preserving their ironical glitter, had lost the hunger-lit
gleam of wolfishness.
"Have you signed a Caruso contract for Covent Garden?" laughed Andrew.
"I've done better. At Covent Garden you've got to work like the devil
for your money. I've made a contract with my family--no work at
all. Agreement--just to bury the hatchet. Theophilus--that's the
Archdeacon--performed the Funeral Service. He has had a stroke, poor chap.
They sent for me."
"Elodie told me," said Andrew.
"He has been very good to me during the war. Otherwise I should have
been reduced to picking up cigar ends with a pointed stick on the
Boulevards--and a damn precarious livelihood too, considering the shortage
of tobacco in this benighted country. He took it into his venerable head
that he was going to die and desired to see me. Voltaire remorse on his
death-bed, you know."
"I fail to follow," said the literal Andrew.
"All his life he had lived an unbeliever in ME. Now your military
intelligence grasps it. My brother Ronald, the runner of the Pawnee Indian,
head-flattening system of education, and his wife, especially his wife, the
daughter of a lay brother of a bishop who has got a baronetcy for making
an enormous fortune out of the war, wouldn't have me at any price. But
Theophilus must have muttered some incantation which frightened them, so
they surrendered. Poor old Theophilus and I had a touching meeting. He's
about as lonely a thing as you could wish to meet. He married an American
heiress, who died about eight years ago, and he's as rich as Croesus. We're
bosom friends now. As for Mrs. Ronald I sang her songs of Araby including
Gounod's 'Ave Maria' with lots of tremolo and convinced her that I'm a
saintly personage. It's my proud boast that, on my account, Ronald and
herself never spoke for three days. I spent a month in the wilds of
Westmorland with them, and as soon as Theophilus got on the mend--he's
already performing semi-Archidiaconal functions--I put my hands over my
eyes and fled. My God, what a crowd! Give me a drink. I've got four weeks'
arrears to make up."
Andrew went into the _salle a manger_ and returned with brandy, syphon
and glasses. Helping Bakkus he asked:
"And now, what are you going to do?"
"Nothing, my friend, absolutely nothing. I wallow in the ill-gotten
matrimonial gains of Theophilus and Ronald. I wallow modestly, it is true.
The richer strata of mire I leave to hogs with whom I'm out of sympathy.
You'll have observed that I'm a man of nice discrimination. I choose my
hogs. It is the Art of Life."
"Well, here's to you," said Andrew, lifting up his glass.
"And to you."
Bakkus emptied his glass at a draught, breathed a sigh of infinite content
and held it out to be refilled.
"And now that I've told you the story of my life, what about you? What's
the meaning of this--" he waved a hand--"this reversion to type?"
"You behold Petit Patou redivivus," said Andrew.
Bakkus regarded him in astonishment.
"But, my dear fellow, Generals can't do things like that."
"That's the cry of Elodie."
"She's a woman with whom I'm in perfect sympathy," said Bakkus.
Elodie entered, cooler, less dishevelled, in her eternal wrapper. She
rushed up to Bakkus and wrung both his hands, overjoyed to see him. He must
pardon her flight, but really--she was in a costume--and not even till she
took it off did she know that it was split--Oh, _mon Dieu!_ Right
across. With a sweep of the hand she frankly indicated the locality of the
disaster. She laughed. Well, it was good that he had arrived at last. He
would be able to put some sense into Andre. He a General, to go back to the
stage. It was crazy! He would give Andre advice, good counsel, that was
what he needed! How Andre could win battles when he was so helpless in
other things, she could not understand. She seized him by the shoulders and
smiled into his face.
"_Mais toi qui es si intelligent, dis quelque chose_."
"To say anything, my dear Elodie, while you are speaking," remarked Bakkus,
"is beyond the power of mortal man. But now that you are silent I will say
this. It is time for _dejeuner_. I am intoxicated with the sense of
pecuniary plenitude, I invite you both to eat with me on the Boulevards
where we can discuss these high matters."
"But it is you that are crazy," cried Elodie, gasping at the unprecedented
proposal which in itself shook, like an earthquake, her intimately
constructed conception of Horatio Bakkus. And on the Boulevards, too!
Her soul rose up in alarm. "You are wanting in your wits. One can't eat
anywhere--even at a restaurant of the second class--under a hundred francs
for three persons."
Bakkus, with an air Louis Seize, implied that one, two or three hundred
francs were as dirt in his fingers. But Elodie would have none of it. She
would be ashamed to put so much money in her stomach.
"I have," said she, "for us two, eggs _au beurre noir_ and a
_blanquette de veau_, and what is enough for two is enough for three.
And you must stay and eat with us as always."
"I wonder," said Bakkus, "whether Andrew realizes what a pearl you are."
So he stayed to lunch and repeated the story of his good fortune, to which
Elodie listened enraptured as to a tale of hidden treasure of which he
was the hero, but never a word could he find in criticism of Andrew's
determination. The quips and causticities that a couple of years ago would
have flowed from his thin, ironical lips, were arrested unformulated at the
back of his brain. He became aware, not so much of a change as of a swift
development of the sterner side of Andrew's character. Of himself he could
talk sardonically enough. He could twit Elodie with her foibles in his old
way. But of Andrew with his weather-beaten mug of a face marked with new,
deep lines of thought and pain, sitting there courteous and simple, yet
preoccupied, strangely aloof, the easy cynic felt curiously afraid. And
when Elodie taxed him with pusillanimity he glanced at Andrew.
"He has made up his mind," he replied. "Some people's minds are made up of
sand and water. Others of stuff composed of builders' weird materials
that harden into concrete. Others again have iron bars run through the
mass--reinforced concrete. That's Andrew. It's a beast of a mind to deal
with, as we have often found, my dear. But what would you have? The animal
is built that way."
"You flatter me," grinned Andrew, "but I don't see what the necessity of
earning bread and butter has to do with a reinforced-concrete mind."
"It's such an undignified way of earning it," protested Elodie.
"I think," said Bakkus, "it will take as much courage for our poor friend
to re-become Petit Patou, as it took for him to become General Lackaday."
Andrew's face suddenly glowed and he shot out his long arm with his bony
wrists many inches from his cuff and put his delicate hand on Bakkus's
"My dear fellow, why can't you always talk like that?"
"I'm going to," replied Bakkus, pausing in the act of lighting one of
Elodie's special reserve of pre-war cigars. "Don't you realize I'm just
transplanted from a forcing bed of High Anglican platitude?"
But Elodie shrugged her fat shoulders in some petulance.
"You men always stick together," she said.
The unventilated dressing-room of the Olympia Music-Hall in Marseilles
reeked of grease paint, stale human exhalations, the acrid odour, creeping
up the iron stairs, of a mangy performing lion, and all manner of
unmentionable things. The month of June is not the ideal month to visit
Marseilles, even if one is free to pass the evening at a cafe table on
the Cannebiere, and there is a breeze coming in from over the sea; but in
copper-skied thundery weather, the sirocco conditions of more southerly
latitudes, especially when one is cooped up in a confined and airless
space, Marseilles in June can be a gasping inferno. Andrew, in spite of
hard physical training, was wet through. His little white-jacketed dresser,
says he, perspired audibly. There was not so much air in the dressing-room
as tangible swelter.
He sat by the wooden table, in front of a cracked and steaming mirror, the
contents of his make-up box laid out before him, and (save for one private
dress rehearsal carried out in surroundings of greater coolness and
comfort) transformed himself, for the first time, from General Lackaday
into the mountebank clown, Petit Patou. The electric lights that should
have illuminated the mirror were not working--he had found, to his
discomfort, that manifold things in post-war France refused to work--and
two candles fainting into hopeless curves took their place. Anxiously over
a wet skin he painted the transfiguring lines, from lip corner to ear, from
nostril to eye, from eye to brow, once the mechanical hand-twist of a few
moments--now the painfully concentrated effort of all his faculties.
He finished at last. The swart and perspiring dresser dried his limbs, held
out the green silk high-heeled tights which reached to his armpits. Then
the grotesque short-sleeved jacket. Then the blazing crimson wig rising to
the point of its extravagant foot height. He felt confined within a red-hot
torture-skin, a Nessus garment specially adapted to the use of discarded
Brigadier-Generals. He sat on the straight-backed chair and looked round
the nine foot square flyblown room, with its peeling paper and its
strained, sooty skylight, which all the efforts of himself and the
dresser had failed to open. It was Mademoiselle Chose, the latter at
last remembered, an imperious lady with a horror of draughts and the ear
(and--who knows?--perhaps the heart of the management) who had ordered it,
in the winter, to be nailed down from the outside. As proof, the broken
"Tell the manager that if it is not unnailed tomorrow, I shall smash a hole
in it," said Andrew.
It did not matter now. In a few moments he would be summoned from the
suffocating den, and then, his turn over, he would dress quickly and emerge
into the open air. Meanwhile, however, he gasped in the heat and the heavy
odour of the place; his head ached with an intolerable pain round his
temples and at the back of his eyeballs; and acute nervousness gripped his
Presently the call-boy put his head in the doorway. Andrew rose, descended
the iron stairs to the wings. Instinctively he went to the waiting table,
covered with green velvet and gold, on which lay piled the once familiar
properties--the one-stringed fiddle, the pith balls, the rings, the cigar,
the matches, the trick silk hat, the cards, the coins, and the rest of the
juggler's apparatus, and methodically checked them. In the visible shaft
of brilliantly lit stage he could see the back of the head and the plump
shoulders and tournure of a singer rendering in bravura fashion the Jewel
Song from "Faust." The stillness whence arose this single flood of sound
seemed almost uncanny. The superheated air thickened with hot human breath
and tobacco smoke stood stagnant like a miasma in the unventilated wings
and back of the stage. The wild beast smell of the lion, although his cage
had been hurriedly wheeled out through the scenery door, still persisted
and caught the throat, and in the dim white-washed bareness, a few figures,
stagehands in shirt-sleeves, and vague pale men in hard felt hats tiptoed
about like perspiring ghosts. One of the latter approached Andrew. Monsieur
Patou need have no fear, he whispered. Everything was arranged--the
beautiful ballroom interior--the men who were to set the stage had their
orders, also the lime-light operators. Andrew nodded, already having given
explicit instructions. The singer vanished from the quivering streak of
stage, in order to give her finale close to the footlights. She ceased.
Rapturous applause. She appeared panting, perspiring, beaming in the wings;
went on again to bow her acknowledgments, amid hoarse cries of "_bis,
bis!_" She reappeared, glowing vaporously in her triumph, and spread out
her arms before the pallid man in the hard felt hat.
"Well! What did I say? You made difficulties about offering me an
engagement. I told you I could make these little birds eat out of my hand.
You hear?"--the clamour would have been perceptible to a deaf mute--"They
are mad about me. I go on again."
"_Mais non, madame_. Three songs. That is your contract. The programme
So spake the assistant manager. But the lady snapped her fingers, heard
like a pistol shot amid the uproar, and made a vast gesture with her arms.
"If I am not allowed to have my encore, I tear up my contract."
The assistant manager released himself from responsibility, yielded to
woman's unreason, and the lady, who had arranged the matter with the leader
of the orchestra, returned in contemptuous triumph to the stage.
Elodie, meanwhile, had descended and stood by Andrew's side. She wore a
very low-cut and short-skirted red evening frock, so tight that she seemed
to ooze distressingly from every aperture. A red rose drooped in her thick
black hair. Like the lank green-clad Andrew, she betrayed anxiety beneath
her heavy make-up. The delay to their turn, prolonging her suspense, caused
her to stamp her foot with annoyance.
"The _sale grue!_ and she sings like a duck."
"She pleases the audience," whispered Andrew.
"And ruins our reception. It is the last straw."
"It can't be helped," said Andrew.
The singer gave as her encore a song from "La Traviata." She certainly had
the mechanical technique so beloved by French audiences. That of Olympia
listened spell-bound to her trills and when she had finished broke once
more into enthusiastic cheering, calling and recalling her two or three
times. At last the curtain came finally down and she disappeared up the
The interior backcloth and wings provided for Les Petit Patou were let
down, stage hands set the table and properties, Andrew and Elodie anxiously
supervising, and when all was clear the curtain went up. Andrew went on
alone and grinned familiarly, his old tradition, before the sea of faces. A
few faint hand-claps instead of the old expectant laughter welcomed him. A
generation had apparently risen that knew not Petit Patou. His heart sank.
The heat of the footlights shimmered like a furnace and smote him with
sudden lassitude. He began his tricks. Took his tiny one-stringed
broomstick handled fiddle and played it with his hands encased in
grotesquely long cotton gloves. Presently, with simulated impatience, he
drew off the gloves, threw them, conjurer fashion, vanishing into the air,
and then resumed his violin to find himself impeded now and then by various
articles cunningly fixed to his attire, one after another of which he
disposed of like the gloves. Finally in his perplexity he made as if to
undo his tights (a certain laugh in former days) but thinking better of it,
threw fiddle and bow as in disgust across the stage into the wings, where
they were caught by the waiting Elodie. The act, once arousing merriment,
fell flat. Andrew's heart sank lower. In itself the performance, which he
had carried through with skilful cleanness, contained nothing risible;
for laughter it depended solely on a personal note of grotesquerie,
of exaggerated bewilderment and impatience and of appealingly idiotic
self-satisfaction when each impediment was discovered and discarded. Had
he lost that personal touch, merely gone through his conjuring with the
mechanical precision of a soldier on parade? Heavens, how he hated himself
and his aching head and the audience and the lay out of futile properties!
Elodie appeared. The performance must continue. He threw into it all his
energy. Elodie gave him her old loyal support. They did their famous cigar
trick, developed from the act of Prepimpin. He had elaborated much of the
comic business. The new patter, with up-to-date allusions, had resulted
from serious conclave with Horatio Bakkus, whose mordant wit supplied many
a line that should have convulsed the house. But the house refused to be
convulsed. His look of vacant imbecility when one after another of a set
of plates with which he juggled, disappeared, being fastened to an elastic
contrivance to his back, and his expression of reproach when, turning
Elodie round, he discovered her wearing the plates as a sort of basque,
which once excited, on no matter what stage, rolling guffaws of mirth, now
passed by unappreciated.
The final item in the programme was one invented and brought to mechanical
perfection just before the war broke out. He insisted on playing his cigar
box and broom-handle fiddle in spite of Elodie's remonstrances. There was
a pretty squabble. He pulled and she pulled, with the result that both
bow and handle, by a tubular device, aided by a ratchet apparatus for the
strings, assumed gigantic proportions. Petit Patou prevailing, after an
almost disastrous fall, perched his great height on chair superimposed on
table, and, with his long lean legs and arms, looking like a monstrous and
horrible spider, began to work the heavy bow across the long strings. He
had rehearsed it to perfection. In performance, something happened. His
artist's nerve had gone. His fingers fumbled impotently for the stops. His
professional experience saved a calamitous situation. With an acrobat's
stride he reached the stage, telescoped fiddle and bow to normal
proportions, and after a lightning nod to the _chef d'orchestre_,
played the Marseillaise. At the end there was half-hearted perfunctory
applause. A light hearted section of every audience applauds anything. But
mingled with it there came from another section a horrible sibilant sound,
the stage death warrant of many an artist's dreams, the modern down-turned
thumb of the Roman populace demanding a gladiator's doom.
The curtain fell. Blank silence now from its further side. A man swiftly
bundled together the properties and drew them off. A tired looking man in
evening dress, with a hideously painted face and long waxed moustaches,
stood in the wings amid performing dogs, some free, some in basket cages,
and amid the waiting clutter of apparatus that at once was rushed upon
the stage. Andrew and Elodie moved clear and at the bottom of the iron
staircase he motioned to her to ascend first. She clutched him by the arm
and gulped down a sob.
"Mon pauvre vieux!"
He tried to smile. "Want of habit. We'll get it all back soon.
_Voyons_"--he took her fat chin in his hand and turned up her face, on
which make-up, perspiration and tears melted into one piteous paste. "This
is not the way that battles are won."
On the landing they separated. Andrew entered his sweltering dressing-room
and gave himself over to the little dresser who had just turned out the
dog-trainer in his shabby evening suit.
"Monsieur had a good reception?"
"Good enough," said Andrew, stretching himself out for the slipping off of
"Ah," said the intuitive little man in the white jacket. "It is the war.
Audiences are no longer the same. They no longer care for subtlety.
Monsieur heard the singer before his turn? Well. Before the war Olympia
wouldn't have listened to her. One didn't pay to hear a bad gramophone.
And, on the other hand, a performance really artistic"--the little man
sighed--"it was heart-breaking."
Andrew let him talk; obviously the hisses had mounted from the wings to the
dressing-room corridors; the man meant well and kindly. When he had dressed
and appeared in his own Lackaday image, he put a twenty-franc note into the
dresser's hand with a "Thank you, my friend," and marched out and away into
the comparatively fresh air of the sulphurous night. He lit a cigarette and
sat down at the corner of a little obscure cafe, commanding a view of the
stage-door and waited for Elodie. His nervousness, even his headache, had
gone. He felt cold and grim and passionless, like a man measuring himself
When Elodie came out, a while later, he sat her down at the table, and
insisted on her drinking a _Grog Americain_ to restore her balance.
But iced rum and water could not medicine an overwrought soul. In her
native air, nothing could check her irrepressibility of expression. She
had to spend her fury with the audience. In all her life never had she
encountered such imbecility--such bestial stupidity. Like the dresser, she
upbraided the war. It had changed everything. It had changed the heart
of France. She, Marseillaise of the Marseillais, was ashamed of being of
Marseilles. Once the South was warm and generous and responsive. Now it was
colder than Paris. She had never imagined that the war could press like a
dead hand on the heart of the people of Provence. Now she knew it was true
what Bakkus had once said--she had been very angry, but he was
right--that through the sunny nature of every child of the Midi swept the
She was not very consecutive or coherent or logical. She sought clamorously
for every evil influence, postwar, racial, political, that could account
for the frozen failure of the evening's performance. No thought disloyal
to Andre hovered on the outskirts of her mind. He perceived it, greatly
touched. When she paused in her vehement outburst, he leaned towards her,
elbow on table, and his delicate hand at the end of his long bony wrist
held up as a signal of arrest:
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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)
"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
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
(_Combinaison des Petit Patou_)
3 rue Falda
Arbuthnot looked from the card to Andrew and from Andrew to the card, in
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."
Back to Full Books