Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Dr. Hortebise had for some time back given up arguing with Mascarin as to the advice the latter gave him. He had been ordered not to let Paul out of his sight, and he obeyed this command literally. He had taken him to dine at M. Martin Rigal's, though the host himself was absent; from there he took Paul to his club, and finally wound up by forcing the young man to accept a bed at his house. They both slept late, and were sitting down to a luxurious breakfast, when the servant announced M. Tantaine, and that worthy man made his appearance with the same smile upon his face which Paul remembered so well in the Hotel de Perou. The sight of him threw the young man into a state of fury. "At last we meet," cried he. "I have an account to settle with you."
"You have an account to settle with me?" asked Daddy Tantaine with a puzzled smile.
"Yes; was it not through you that I was accused of theft by that old hag, Madame Loupins?"
Tantaine shrugged his shoulders.
"Dear me," said he; "I thought that M. Mascarin had explained everything, and that you were anxious to marry Mademoiselle Flavia, and that, above all, you were a young man of intelligence and tact."
Hortebise roared with laughter, and Paul, seeing his folly, blushed deeply and remained silent.
"I regret having disturbed you, doctor," resumed Tantaine, "but I had strict orders to see you."
"Is there anything new then?"
"Yes; Mademoiselle de Mussidan is out of danger, and M. de Croisenois can commence proceedings at once."
The doctor drank off a glass of wine. "To the speedy marriage of our dear friend the Marquis and Mademoiselle Sabine," said he gayly.
"So be it," said Tantaine; "I am also directed to beg M. Paul not to leave this house, but to send for his luggage and remain here."
Hortebise looked so much annoyed that Tantaine hastened to add: "Only as a temporary measure, for I am on the lookout for rooms for him now."
Paul looked delighted at the idea of having a home of his own.
"Good!" exclaimed the doctor merrily. "And now, my dear Tantaine, as you have executed all your commissions, you can stay and breakfast with us."
"Thanks for the honor; but I am very busy with affairs of the Duke de Champdoce and must see Perpignan at once." As he spoke he rose, making a little sign which Paul did not catch, and Hortebise accompanied him to the door of the vestibule. "Don't leave that lad alone," said Tantaine; "I will see about him to-morrow; meanwhile prepare him a little."
"I comprehend," answered Hortebise; "my kind regards to that dear fellow, Perpignan."
This Perpignan was well known--some people said too well known--in Paris. His real name was Isidore Crocheteau, and he had started life as a cook in a Palais Royal restaurant. Unfortunately a breach of the Eighth Commandment had caused him to suffer incarceration for a period of three years, and on his release he bloomed out into a private inquiry agent. His chief customers were jealous husbands, but as surely as one of these placed an affair in his hands, he would go to the erring wife and obtain a handsome price from her for his silence.
Mascarin and Perpignan had met in an affair of this kind; and as they mutually feared each other, they had tacitly agreed not to cross each other's path in that great wilderness of crime--Paris. But while Perpignan knew nothing of Mascarin's schemes and operations, the former was very well acquainted with the ex-cook's doings. He knew, for instance, that the income from the Inquiry Office would not cover Perpignan's expenses, who dressed extravagantly, kept a carriage, affected artistic tastes, played cards, betted on races, and liked good dinners at the most expensive restaurants. "Where can he get his money from?" asked Mascarin of himself; and, after a long search, he succeeded in solving the riddle.
Daddy Tantaine, after leaving the doctor's, soon arrived at the residence of M. Perpignan, and rang the bell.
A fat woman answered the door. "M. Perpignan is out," said she.
"When will he be back?"
"Some time this evening."
"Can you tell me where I can find him, as it is of the utmost importance to both of us that I should see him at once?"
"He did not say where he was going to."
"Perhaps he is at the factory," said Tantaine blandly.
The fat woman was utterly taken aback by this suggestion. "What do you know about that?" faltered she.
"You see I do know, and that is sufficient for you. Come, is he there?"
"I think so."
"Thank you, I will call on him then. An awfully long journey," muttered Tantaine, as he turned away; "but, perhaps, if I catch the worthy man in the midst of all his little business affairs, he will be more free in his language, and not so guarded in his actual admissions."
The old man went to his task with a will. He passed down the Rue Toumenon, skirted the Luxemburg, and made his way into the Rue Guy Lussac; from thence he walked down the Rue Mouffetard, and thence direct into one of those crooked lanes which run between the Gobelins Factory and the Hopital de l'Oursine. This is a portion of the city utterly unknown to the greater number of Parisians. The streets are narrow and hardly afford room for vehicles. A valley forms the centre of the place, down which runs a muddy, sluggish stream, the banks of which are densely crowded with tanyards and iron works. On the one side of this valley is the busy Rue Mouffetard, and on the other one of the outer boulevard, while a long line of sickly-looking poplars mark the course of the semi-stagnant stream. Tantaine seemed to know the quarter well, and went on until he reached the Champs des Alouettes. Then, with a sigh of satisfaction, he halted before a large, three-storied house, standing on a piece of ground surrounded by a mouldering wooden fence. The aspect of the house had something sinister and gloomy about it, and for a moment Tantaine paused as if he could not make up his mind to enter it; but at last he did so. The interior was as dingy and dilapidated as the outside. There were two rooms on the ground floor, one of which was strewn with straw, with a few filthy-looking quilts and blankets spread over it. The next room was fitted up as a kitchen; in the centre was a long table composed of boards placed on trestles, and a dirty-looking woman with her head enveloped in a coarse red handkerchief, and grasping a big wooden spoon, was stirring the contents of a large pot in which some terrible-looking ingredients were cooking. On a small bed in a corner lay a little boy. Every now and then a shiver convulsed his frame, his face was deadly pale, and his hands almost transparent, while his great black eyes glittered with the wild delirium of fever. Sometimes he would give a deep groan, and then the old beldame would turn angrily and threaten to strike him with her wooden spoon.
"But I am so ill," pleaded the boy.
"If you had brought home what you were told, you would not have been beaten, and then you would have had no fever," returned the woman harshly.
"Ah, me! I am sick and cold, and want to go away," wailed the child; "I want to see mammy."
Even Tantaine felt uneasy at this scene, and gave a gentle cough to announce his presence. The old woman turned round on him with an angry snarl. "Who do you want here?" growled she.
"He has not yet arrived, and may not come at all, for it is not his day; but you can see Poluche."
"And who may he be?"
"He is the professor," answered the hag contemptuously.
"And where is he?"
"In the music-room."
Tantaine went to the stairs, which were so dingy and dilapidated as to make an ascent a work of danger and difficulty. As he ascended higher, he became aware of a strange sound, something between the grinding of scissors and the snarling of cats. Then a moment's silence, a loud execration, and a cry of pain. Tantaine passed on, and coming to a rickety door, he opened it, and in another moment found himself in what the old hag downstairs had called the music-room. The partitions of all the rooms on the floor had been roughly torn down to form this apartment; hardly a pane of glass remained intact in the windows; the dingy, whitewashed walls were covered with scrawls and drawings in charcoal. A suffocating, nauseous odor rose up, absolutely overpowering the smell from the neighboring tanyards. There was no furniture except a broken chair, upon which lay a dog whip with plaited leather lash. Round the room, against the wall, stood some twenty children, dirty, and in tattered clothes. Some had violins in their hands, and others stood behind harps as tall as themselves. Upon the violins Tantaine noticed there were chalk marks at various distances. In the middle of the room was a man, tall and erect as a dart, with flat, ugly features and lank, greasy hair hanging down on his shoulders. He, too, had a violin, and was evidently giving the children a lesson. Tantaine at once guessed that this was Professor Poluche.
"Listen," said he; "here, you Ascanie, play the chorus from the Chateau de Marguerite." As he spoke he drew his bow across his instrument, while the little Savoyard did his best to imitate him, and in a squeaking voice, in nasal tone, he sang:
"Ah! great heavens, how fine and grand Is the palace!"
"You young rascal!" cried Poluche. "Have I not bid you fifty times that at the word 'palace' you are to place your bow on the fourth chalkmark and draw it across? Begin again."
Once again the boy commenced, but Poluche stopped him.
"I believe, you young villain, that you are doing it on purpose. Now, go through the whole chorus again; and if you do not do it right, look out for squalls."
Poor Ascanie was so muddled that he forgot all his instructions. Without any appearance of anger, the professor took up the whip and administered half a dozen severe cuts across the bare legs of the child, whose shouts soon filled the room.
"When you are done howling," remarked Poluche, "you can try again; and if you do not succeed, no supper for you to-night, my lad. Now, Giuseppe, it is your turn."
Giuseppe, though younger than Ascanie, was a greater proficient on the instrument, and went through his task without a single mistake.
"Good!" said Poluche; "if you get on like that, you will soon be fit to go out. You would like that, I suppose?"
"Yes," replied the delighted boy, "and I should like to bring in a few coppers too."
But the Professor did not waste too much time in idle converse.
"It is your turn now, Fabio," said he.
Fabio, a little mite of seven, with eyes black and sparkling as those of a dormouse, had just seen Tantaine in the doorway and pointed him out to the professor.
Poluche turned quickly round and found himself face to face with Tantaine, who had come quickly forward, his hat in his hand.
Had the professor seen an apparition, he could not have started more violently, for he did not like strangers.
"What do you want?" asked he.
"Reassure yourself, sir," said Tantaine, after having for a few seconds enjoyed his evident terror; "I am the intimate friend of the gentleman who employs you, and have come here to discuss an important matter of business with him."
Poluche breathed more freely.
"Take a chair, sir," said he, offering the only one in the room. "My master will soon be here."
But Daddy Tantaine refused the offer, saying that he did not wish to intrude, but would wait until the lesson was over.
"I have nearly finished," remarked Poluche; "it is almost time to let these scamps have their soup."
Then turning to his pupils, who had not dared to stir a limb, he said,--
"There, that is enough for to-day; you can go."
The children did not hesitate for a moment, but tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get away, hoping, perhaps, that he might omit to execute certain threats that he had held out during the lesson. The hope was a vain one, for the equitable Poluche went to the head of the stairs and called out in a loud voice,--
"Mother Butor, you will give no soup to Monte and put Ravillet on half allowance."
Tantaine was much interested, for the scene was an entirely new one.
The professor raised his eyes to heaven.
"Would," said he, "that I might teach them the divine science as I would wish; but the master would not allow me; indeed, he would dismiss me if I attempted to do so."
"I do not understand you."
"Let me explain to you. You know that there are certain old women who, for a consideration, will train a linnet or a bullfinch to whistle any air?"
Tantaine, with all humility, confessed his ignorance of these matters.
"Well," said the professor, "the only difference between those old women and myself is, that they teach birds and I boys; and I know which I had rather do."
Tantaine pointed to the whip.
"And how about this?" asked he.
Poluche shrugged his shoulders.
"Put yourself in my place for a little while," remarked he. "You see my master brings me all sorts of boys, and I have to cram music into them in the briefest period possible. Of course the child revolts, and I thrash him; but do not think he cares for this; the young imps thrive on blows. The only way that I can touch them is through their stomachs. I stop a quarter, a half, and sometimes the whole of their dinner. That fetches them, and you have no idea how a little starvation brings them on in music."
Daddy Tantaine felt a cold shiver creep over him as he listened to this frank exposition of the professor's mode of action.
"You can now understand," remarked the professor, "how some airs become popular in Paris. I have forty pupils all trying the same thing. I am drilling them now in the Marguerite, and in a little time you will have nothing else in the streets."
Poluche was proceeding to give Tantaine some further information, when a step was heard upon the stairs, and the professor remarked,--
"Here is the master; he never comes up here, because he is afraid of the stairs. You had better go down to him."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.