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Providence and the Guitar

CHAPTER I

Monsieur Leon Berthelini had a great care of his appearance, and
sedulously suited his deportment to the costume of the hour. He
affected something Spanish in his air, and something of the bandit,
with a flavour of Rembrandt at home. In person he was decidedly
small and inclined to be stout; his face was the picture of good
humour; his dark eyes, which were very expressive, told of a kind
heart, a brisk, merry nature, and the most indefatigable spirits.
If he had worn the clothes of the period you would have set him
down for a hitherto undiscovered hybrid between the barber, the
innkeeper, and the affable dispensing chemist. But in the
outrageous bravery of velvet jacket and flapped hat, with trousers
that were more accurately described as fleshings, a white
handkerchief cavalierly knotted at his neck, a shock of Olympian
curls upon his brow, and his feet shod through all weathers in the
slenderest of Moliere shoes - you had but to look at him and you
knew you were in the presence of a Great Creature. When he wore an
overcoat he scorned to pass the sleeves; a single button held it
round his shoulders; it was tossed backwards after the manner of a
cloak, and carried with the gait and presence of an Almaviva. I am
of opinion that M. Berthelini was nearing forty. But he had a
boy's heart, gloried in his finery, and walked through life like a
child in a perpetual dramatic performance. If he were not Almaviva
after all, it was not for lack of making believe. And he enjoyed
the artist's compensation. If he were not really Almaviva, he was
sometimes just as happy as though he were.

I have seen him, at moments when he has fancied himself alone with
his Maker, adopt so gay and chivalrous a bearing, and represent his
own part with so much warmth and conscience, that the illusion
became catching, and I believed implicitly in the Great Creature's
pose.

But, alas! life cannot be entirely conducted on these principles;
man cannot live by Almavivery alone; and the Great Creature, having
failed upon several theatres, was obliged to step down every
evening from his heights, and sing from half-a-dozen to a dozen
comic songs, twang a guitar, keep a country audience in good
humour, and preside finally over the mysteries of a tombola.

Madame Berthelini, who was art and part with him in these
undignified labours, had perhaps a higher position in the scale of
beings, and enjoyed a natural dignity of her own. But her heart
was not any more rightly placed, for that would have been
impossible; and she had acquired a little air of melancholy,
attractive enough in its way, but not good to see like the
wholesome, sky-scraping, boyish spirits of her lord.

He, indeed, swam like a kite on a fair wind, high above earthly
troubles. Detonations of temper were not unfrequent in the zones
he travelled; but sulky fogs and tearful depressions were there
alike unknown. A well-delivered blow upon a table, or a noble
attitude, imitated from Melingne or Frederic, relieved his
irritation like a vengeance. Though the heaven had fallen, if he
had played his part with propriety, Berthelini had been content!
And the man's atmosphere, if not his example, reacted on his wife;
for the couple doated on each other, and although you would have
thought they walked in different worlds, yet continued to walk hand
in hand.

It chanced one day that Monsieur and Madame Berthelini descended
with two boxes and a guitar in a fat case at the station of the
little town of Castel-le-Gachis, and the omnibus carried them with
their effects to the Hotel of the Black Head. This was a dismal,
conventual building in a narrow street, capable of standing siege
when once the gates were shut, and smelling strangely in the
interior of straw and chocolate and old feminine apparel.
Berthelini paused upon the threshold with a painful premonition.
In some former state, it seemed to him, he had visited a hostelry
that smelt not otherwise, and been ill received.

The landlord, a tragic person in a large felt hat, rose from a
business table under the key-rack, and came forward, removing his
hat with both hands as he did so.

"Sir, I salute you. May I inquire what is your charge for
artists?" inquired Berthelini, with a courtesy at once splendid and
insinuating.

"For artists?" said the landlord. His countenance fell and the
smile of welcome disappeared. "Oh, artists!" he added brutally;
"four francs a day." And he turned his back upon these
inconsiderable customers.

A commercial traveller is received, he also, upon a reduction - yet
is he welcome, yet can he command the fatted calf; but an artist,
had he the manners of an Almaviva, were he dressed like Solomon in
all his glory, is received like a dog and served like a timid lady
travelling alone.

Accustomed as he was to the rubs of his profession, Berthelini was
unpleasantly affected by the landlord's manner.

"Elvira," said he to his wife, "mark my words: Castel-le-Gachis is
a tragic folly."

"Wait till we see what we take," replied Elvira.

"We shall take nothing," returned Berthelini; "we shall feed upon
insults. I have an eye, Elvira: I have a spirit of divination;
and this place is accursed. The landlord has been discourteous,
the Commissary will be brutal, the audience will be sordid and
uproarious, and you will take a cold upon your throat. We have
been besotted enough to come; the die is cast - it will be a second
Sedan."

Sedan was a town hateful to the Berthelinis, not only from
patriotism (for they were French, and answered after the flesh to
the somewhat homely name of Duval), but because it had been the
scene of their most sad reverses. In that place they had lain
three weeks in pawn for their hotel bill, and had it not been for a
surprising stroke of fortune they might have been lying there in
pawn until this day. To mention the name of Sedan was for the
Berthelinis to dip the brush in earthquake and eclipse. Count
Almaviva slouched his hat with a gesture expressive of despair, and
even Elvira felt as if ill-fortune had been personally invoked.

"Let us ask for breakfast," said she, with a woman's tact.

The Commissary of Police of Castel-le-Gachis was a large red
Commissary, pimpled, and subject to a strong cutaneous
transpiration. I have repeated the name of his office because he
was so very much more a Commissary than a man. The spirit of his
dignity had entered into him. He carried his corporation as if it
were something official. Whenever he insulted a common citizen it
seemed to him as if he were adroitly flattering the Government by a
side wind; in default of dignity he was brutal from an overweening
sense of duty. His office was a den, whence passers-by could hear
rude accents laying down, not the law, but the good pleasure of the
Commissary.

Six several times in the course of the day did M. Berthelini hurry
thither in quest of the requisite permission for his evening's
entertainment; six several times he found the official was abroad.
Leon Berthelini began to grow quite a familiar figure in the
streets of Castel-le-Gachis; he became a local celebrity, and was
pointed out as "the man who was looking for the Commissary." Idle
children attached themselves to his footsteps, and trotted after
him back and forward between the hotel and the office. Leon might
try as he liked; he might roll cigarettes, he might straddle, he
might cock his hat at a dozen different jaunty inclinations - the
part of Almaviva was, under the circumstances, difficult to play.

As he passed the market-place upon the seventh excursion the
Commissary was pointed out to him, where he stood, with his
waistcoat unbuttoned and his hands behind his back, to superintend
the sale and measurement of butter. Berthelini threaded his way
through the market stalls and baskets, and accosted the dignitary
with a bow which was a triumph of the histrionic art.

"I have the honour," he asked, "of meeting M. le Commissaire?"

The Commissary was affected by the nobility of his address. He
excelled Leon in the depth if not in the airy grace of his
salutation.

"The honour," said he, "is mine!"

"I am," continued the strolling-player, "I am, sir, an artist, and
I have permitted myself to interrupt you on an affair of business.
To-night I give a trifling musical entertainment at the Cafe of the
Triumphs of the Plough - permit me to offer you this little
programme - and I have come to ask you for the necessary
authorisation."

At the word "artist," the Commissary had replaced his hat with the
air of a person who, having condescended too far, should suddenly
remember the duties of his rank.

"Go, go," said he, "I am busy - I am measuring butter."

"Heathen Jew!" thought Leon. "Permit me, sir," he resumed aloud.
"I have gone six times already - "

"Put up your bills if you choose," interrupted the Commissary. "In
an hour or so I will examine your papers at the office. But now
go; I am busy."

"Measuring butter!" thought Berthelini. "Oh, France, and it is for
this that we made '93!"

The preparations were soon made; the bills posted, programmes laid
on the dinner-table of every hotel in the town, and a stage erected
at one end of the Cafe of the Triumphs of the Plough; but when Leon
returned to the office, the Commissary was once more abroad.

"He is like Madame Benoiton," thought Leon, "Fichu Commissaire!"

And just then he met the man face to face.

"Here, sir," said he, "are my papers. Will you be pleased to
verify?"

But the Commissary was now intent upon dinner.

"No use," he replied, "no use; I am busy; I am quite satisfied.
Give your entertainment."

And he hurried on.

"Fichu Commissaire!" thought Leon.

CHAPTER II

The audience was pretty large; and the proprietor of the cafe made
a good thing of it in beer. But the Berthelinis exerted themselves
in vain.

Leon was radiant in velveteen; he had a rakish way of smoking a
cigarette between his songs that was worth money in itself; he
underlined his comic points, so that the dullest numskull in
Castel-le-Gachis had a notion when to laugh; and he handled his
guitar in a manner worthy of himself. Indeed his play with that
instrument was as good as a whole romantic drama; it was so
dashing, so florid, and so cavalier.

Elvira, on the other hand, sang her patriotic and romantic songs
with more than usual expression; her voice had charm and plangency;
and as Leon looked at her, in her low-bodied maroon dress, with her
arms bare to the shoulder, and a red flower set provocatively in
her corset, he repeated to himself for the many hundredth time that
she was one of the loveliest creatures in the world of women.

Alas! when she went round with the tambourine, the golden youth of
Castel-le-Gachis turned from her coldly. Here and there a single
halfpenny was forthcoming; the net result of a collection never
exceeded half a franc; and the Maire himself, after seven different
applications, had contributed exactly twopence. A certain chill
began to settle upon the artists themselves; it seemed as if they
were singing to slugs; Apollo himself might have lost heart with
such an audience. The Berthelinis struggled against the
impression; they put their back into their work, they sang loud and
louder, the guitar twanged like a living thing; and at last Leon
arose in his might, and burst with inimitable conviction into his
great song, "Y a des honnetes gens partout!" Never had he given
more proof of his artistic mastery; it was his intimate,
indefeasible conviction that Castel-le-Gachis formed an exception
to the law he was now lyrically proclaiming, and was peopled
exclusively by thieves and bullies; and yet, as I say, he flung it
down like a challenge, he trolled it forth like an article of
faith; and his face so beamed the while that you would have thought
he must make converts of the benches.

He was at the top of his register, with his head thrown back and
his mouth open, when the door was thrown violently open, and a pair
of new comers marched noisily into the cafe. It was the
Commissary, followed by the Garde Champetre.

The undaunted Berthelini still continued to proclaim, "Y a des
honnetes gens partout!" But now the sentiment produced an audible
titter among the audience. Berthelini wondered why; he did not
know the antecedents of the Garde Champetre; he had never heard of
a little story about postage stamps. But the public knew all about
the postage stamps and enjoyed the coincidence hugely.

The Commissary planted himself upon a vacant chair with somewhat
the air of Cromwell visiting the Rump, and spoke in occasional
whispers to the Garde Champetre, who remained respectfully standing
at his back. The eyes of both were directed upon Berthelini, who
persisted in his statement.

"Y a des honnetes gens partout," he was just chanting for the
twentieth time; when up got the Commissary upon his feet and waved
brutally to the singer with his cane.

"Is it me you want?" inquired Leon, stopping in his song.

"It is you," replied the potentate.

"Fichu Commissaire!" thought Leon, and he descended from the stage
and made his way to the functionary.

"How does it happen, sir," said the Commissary, swelling in person,
"that I find you mountebanking in a public cafe without my
permission?"

"Without?" cried the indignant Leon. "Permit me to remind you - "

"Come, come, sir!" said the Commissary, "I desire no explanations."

"I care nothing about what you desire," returned the singer. "I
choose to give them, and I will not be gagged. I am an artist,
sir, a distinction that you cannot comprehend. I received your
permission and stand here upon the strength of it; interfere with
me who dare."

"You have not got my signature, I tell you," cried the Commissary.
"Show me my signature! Where is my signature?"

That was just the question; where was his signature? Leon
recognised that he was in a hole; but his spirit rose with the
occasion, and he blustered nobly, tossing back his curls. The
Commissary played up to him in the character of tyrant; and as the
one leaned farther forward, the other leaned farther back - majesty
confronting fury. The audience had transferred their attention to
this new performance, and listened with that silent gravity common
to all Frenchmen in the neighbourhood of the Police. Elvira had
sat down, she was used to these distractions, and it was rather
melancholy than fear that now oppressed her.

"Another word," cried the Commissary, "and I arrest you."

"Arrest me?" shouted Leon. "I defy you!"

"I am the Commissary of Police,' said the official.

Leon commanded his feelings, and replied, with great delicacy of
innuendo -

"So it would appear."

The point was too refined for Castel-le-Gachis; it did not raise a
smile; and as for the Commissary, he simply bade the singer follow
him to his office, and directed his proud footsteps towards the
door. There was nothing for it but to obey. Leon did so with a
proper pantomime of indifference, but it was a leek to eat, and
there was no denying it.

The Maire had slipped out and was already waiting at the
Commissary's door. Now the Maire, in France, is the refuge of the
oppressed. He stands between his people and the boisterous rigours
of the Police. He can sometimes understand what is said to him; he
is not always puffed up beyond measure by his dignity. 'Tis a
thing worth the knowledge of travellers. When all seems over, and
a man has made up his mind to injustice, he has still, like the
heroes of romance, a little bugle at his belt whereon to blow; and
the Maire, a comfortable DEUS EX MACHINA, may still descend to
deliver him from the minions of the law. The Maire of Castel-le-
Gachis, although inaccessible to the charms of music as retailed by
the Berthelinis, had no hesitation whatever as to the rights of the
matter. He instantly fell foul of the Commissary in very high
terms, and the Commissary, pricked by this humiliation, accepted
battle on the point of fact. The argument lasted some little while
with varying success, until at length victory inclined so plainly
to the Commissary's side that the Maire was fain to reassert
himself by an exercise of authority. He had been out-argued, but
he was still the Maire. And so, turning from his interlocutor, he
briefly but kindly recommended Leon to get back instanter to his
concert.

"It is already growing late," he added.

Leon did not wait to be told twice. He returned to the Cafe of the
Triumphs of the Plough with all expedition. Alas! the audience had
melted away during his absence; Elvira was sitting in a very
disconsolate attitude on the guitar-box; she had watched the
company dispersing by twos and threes, and the prolonged spectacle
had somewhat overwhelmed her spirits. Each man, she reflected,
retired with a certain proportion of her earnings in his pocket,
and she saw to-night's board and to-morrow's railway expenses, and
finally even to-morrow's dinner, walk one after another out of the
cafe door and disappear into the night.

"What was it?" she asked languidly. But Leon did not answer. He
was looking round him on the scene of defeat. Scarce a score of
listeners remained, and these of the least promising sort. The
minute hand of the clock was already climbing upward towards
eleven.

"It's a lost battle," said he, and then taking up the money-box he
turned it out. "Three francs seventy-five!" he cried, "as against
four of board and six of railway fares; and no time for the
tombola! Elvira, this is Waterloo." And he sat down and passed
both hands desperately among his curls. "O Fichu Commissaire!" he
cried, "Fichu Commissaire!"

"Let us get the things together and be off," returned Elvira. "We
might try another song, but there is not six halfpence in the
room."

"Six halfpence?" cried Leon, "six hundred thousand devils! There
is not a human creature in the town - nothing but pigs and dogs and
commissaires! Pray heaven, we get safe to bed."

"Don't imagine things!" exclaimed Elvira, with a shudder.

And with that they set to work on their preparations. The tobacco-
jar, the cigarette-holder, the three papers of shirt-studs, which
were to have been the prices of the tombola had the tombola come
off, were made into a bundle with the music; the guitar was stowed
into the fat guitar-case; and Elvira having thrown a thin shawl
about her neck and shoulders, the pair issued from the cafe and set
off for the Black Head.

As they crossed the market-place the church bell rang out eleven.
It was a dark, mild night, and there was no one in the streets.

"It is all very fine," said Leon; "but I have a presentiment. The
night is not yet done."

CHAPTER III

The "Black Head" presented not a single chink of light upon the
street, and the carriage gate was closed.

"This is unprecedented," observed Leon. "An inn closed by five
minutes after eleven! And there were several commercial travellers
in the cafe up to a late hour. Elvira, my heart misgives me. Let
us ring the bell."

The bell had a potent note; and being swung under the arch it
filled the house from top to bottom with surly, clanging
reverberations. The sound accentuated the conventual appearance of
the building; a wintry sentiment, a thought of prayer and
mortification, took hold upon Elvira's mind; and, as for Leon, he
seemed to be reading the stage directions for a lugubrious fifth
act.

"This is your fault," said Elvira: "this is what comes of fancying
things!"

Again Leon pulled the bell-rope; again the solemn tocsin awoke the
echoes of the inn; and ere they had died away, a light glimmered in
the carriage entrance, and a powerful voice was heard upraised and
tremulous with wrath.

"What's all this?" cried the tragic host through the spars of the
gate. "Hard upon twelve, and you come clamouring like Prussians at
the door of a respectable hotel? Oh!" he cried, "I know you now!
Common singers! People in trouble with the police! And you
present yourselves at midnight like lords and ladies? Be off with
you!"

"You will permit me to remind you," replied Leon, in thrilling
tones, "that I am a guest in your house, that I am properly
inscribed, and that I have deposited baggage to the value of four
hundred francs."

"You cannot get in at this hour," returned the man. "This is no
thieves' tavern, for mohocks and night rakes and organ-grinders."

"Brute!" cried Elvira, for the organ-grinders touched her home.

"Then I demand my baggage," said Leon, with unabated dignity.

"I know nothing of your baggage," replied the landlord.

"You detain my baggage? You dare to detain my baggage?" cried the
singer.

"Who are you?" returned the landlord. "It is dark - I cannot
recognise you."

"Very well, then - you detain my baggage," concluded Leon. "You
shall smart for this. I will weary out your life with
persecutions; I will drag you from court to court; if there is
justice to be had in France, it shall be rendered between you and
me. And I will make you a by-word - I will put you in a song - a
scurrilous song - an indecent song - a popular song - which the
boys shall sing to you in the street, and come and howl through
these spars at mid-night!"

He had gone on raising his voice at every phrase, for all the while
the landlord was very placidly retiring; and now, when the last
glimmer of light had vanished from the arch, and the last footstep
died away in the interior, Leon turned to his wife with a heroic
countenance.

"Elvira," said he, "I have now a duty in life. I shall destroy
that man as Eugene Sue destroyed the concierge. Let us come at
once to the Gendarmerie and begin our vengeance."

He picked up the guitar-case, which had been propped against the
wall, and they set forth through the silent and ill-lighted town
with burning hearts.

The Gendarmerie was concealed beside the telegraph office at the
bottom of a vast court, which was partly laid out in gardens; and
here all the shepherds of the public lay locked in grateful sleep.
It took a deal of knocking to waken one; and he, when he came at
last to the door, could find no other remark but that "it was none
of his business." Leon reasoned with him, threatened him, besought
him; "here," he said, "was Madame Berthelini in evening dress - a
delicate woman - in an interesting condition" - the last was thrown
in, I fancy, for effect; and to all this the man-at-arms made the
same answer:

"It is none of my business," said he.

"Very well," said Leon, "then we shall go to the Commissary."
Thither they went; the office was closed and dark; but the house
was close by, and Leon was soon swinging the bell like a madman.
The Commissary's wife appeared at a window. She was a thread-paper
creature, and informed them that the Commissary had not yet come
home.

"Is he at the Maire's?" demanded Leon.

She thought that was not unlikely.

"Where is the Maire's house?" he asked.

And she gave him some rather vague information on that point.

"Stay you here, Elvira," said Leon, "lest I should miss him by the
way. If, when I return, I find you here no longer, I shall follow
at once to the Black Head."

And he set out to find the Maire's. It took him some ten minutes
wandering among blind lanes, and when he arrived it was already
half-an-hour past midnight. A long white garden wall overhung by
some thick chestnuts, a door with a letter-box, and an iron bell-
pull, that was all that could be seen of the Maire's domicile.
Leon took the bell-pull in both hands, and danced furiously upon
the side-walk. The bell itself was just upon the other side of the
wall, it responded to his activity, and scattered an alarming
clangour far and wide into the night.

A window was thrown open in a house across the street, and a voice
inquired the cause of this untimely uproar.

"I wish the Maire," said Leon.

"He has been in bed this hour," returned the voice.

"He must get up again," retorted Leon, and he was for tackling the
bell-pull once more.

"You will never make him hear," responded the voice. "The garden
is of great extent, the house is at the farther end, and both the
Maire and his housekeeper are deaf."

"Aha!" said Leon, pausing. "The Maire is deaf, is he? That
explains." And he thought of the evening's concert with a
momentary feeling of relief. "Ah!" he continued, "and so the Maire
is deaf, and the garden vast, and the house at the far end?"

"And you might ring all night," added the voice, "and be none the
better for it. You would only keep me awake."

"Thank you, neighbour," replied the singer. "You shall sleep."

And he made off again at his best pace for the Commissary's.
Elvira was still walking to and fro before the door.

"He has not come?" asked Leon.

"Not he," she replied.

"Good," returned Leon. "I am sure our man's inside. Let me see
the guitar-case. I shall lay this siege in form, Elvira; I am
angry; I am indignant; I am truculently inclined; but I thank my
Maker I have still a sense of fun. The unjust judge shall be
importuned in a serenade, Elvira. Set him up - and set him up."

He had the case opened by this time, struck a few chords, and fell
into an attitude which was irresistibly Spanish.

"Now," he continued, "feel your voice. Are you ready? Follow me!"

The guitar twanged, and the two voices upraised, in harmony and
with a startling loudness, the chorus of a song of old Beranger's:-


"Commissaire! Commissaire!
Colin bat sa menagere."


The stones of Castel-le-Gachis thrilled at this audacious
innovation. Hitherto had the night been sacred to repose and
nightcaps; and now what was this? Window after window was opened;
matches scratched, and candles began to flicker; swollen sleepy
faces peered forth into the starlight. There were the two figures
before the Commissary's house, each bolt upright, with head thrown
back and eyes interrogating the starry heavens; the guitar wailed,
shouted, and reverberated like half an orchestra; and the voices,
with a crisp and spirited delivery, hurled the appropriate burden
at the Commissary's window. All the echoes repeated the
functionary's name. It was more like an entr'acte in a farce of
Moliere's than a passage of real life in Castel-le-Gachis.

The Commissary, if he was not the first, was not the last of the
neighbours to yield to the influence of music, and furiously throw
open the window of his bedroom. He was beside himself with rage.
He leaned far over the window-sill, raying and gesticulating; the
tassel of his white night-cap danced like a thing of life: he
opened his mouth to dimensions hitherto unprecedented, and yet his
voice, instead of escaping from it in a roar, came forth shrill and
choked and tottering. A little more serenading, and it was clear
he would be better acquainted with the apoplexy.

I scorn to reproduce his language; he touched upon too many serious
topics by the way for a quiet story-teller. Although he was known
for a man who was prompt with his tongue, and had a power of strong
expression at command, he excelled himself so remarkably this night
that one maiden lady, who had got out of bed like the rest to hear
the serenade, was obliged to shut her window at the second clause.
Even what she had heard disquieted her conscience; and next day she
said she scarcely reckoned as a maiden lady any longer.

Leon tried to explain his predicament, but he received nothing but
threats of arrest by way of answer.

"If I come down to you!" cried the Commissary.

"Aye," said Leon, "do!"

"I will not!" cried the Commissary.

"You dare not!" answered Leon.

At that the Commissary closed his window.

"All is over," said the singer. "The serenade was perhaps ill-
judged. These boors have no sense of humour."

"Let us get away from here," said Elvira, with a shiver. "All
these people looking - it is so rude and so brutal." And then
giving way once more to passion - "Brutes!" she cried aloud to the
candle-lit spectators - "brutes! brutes! brutes!"

"Sauve qui peut," said Leon. "You have done it now!"

And taking the guitar in one hand and the case in the other, he led
the way with something too precipitate to be merely called
precipitation from the scene of this absurd adventure.

CHAPTER IV

To the west of Castel-le-Gachis four rows of venerable lime-trees
formed, in this starry night, a twilit avenue with two side aisles
of pitch darkness. Here and there stone benches were disposed
between the trunks. There was not a breath of wind; a heavy
atmosphere of perfume hung about the alleys; and every leaf stood
stock-still upon its twig. Hither, after vainly knocking at an inn
or two, the Berthelinis came at length to pass the night. After an
amiable contention, Leon insisted on giving his coat to Elvira, and
they sat down together on the first bench in silence. Leon made a
cigarette, which he smoked to an end, looking up into the trees,
and, beyond them, at the constellations, of which he tried vainly
to recall the names. The silence was broken by the church bell; it
rang the four quarters on a light and tinkling measure; then
followed a single deep stroke that died slowly away with a thrill;
and stillness resumed its empire.

"One," said Leon. "Four hours till daylight. It is warm; it is
starry; I have matches and tobacco. Do not let us exaggerate,
Elvira - the experience is positively charming. I feel a glow
within me; I am born again. This is the poetry of life. Think of
Cooper's novels, my dear."

"Leon," she said fiercely, "how can you talk such wicked, infamous
nonsense? To pass all night out-of-doors - it is like a nightmare!
We shall die."

"You suffer yourself to be led away," he replied soothingly. "It
is not unpleasant here; only you brood. Come, now, let us repeat a
scene. Shall we try Alceste and Celimene? No? Or a passage from
the 'Two Orphans'? Come, now, it will occupy your mind; I will
play up to you as I never have played before; I feel art moving in
my bones."

"Hold your tongue," she cried, "or you will drive me mad! Will
nothing solemnise you - not even this hideous situation?"

"Oh, hideous!" objected Leon. "Hideous is not the word. Why,
where would you be? 'Dites, la jeune belle, ou voulez-vous
aller?'" he carolled. "Well, now," he went on, opening the guitar-
case, "there's another idea for you - sing. Sing 'Dites, la jeune
belle!' It will compose your spirits, Elvira, I am sure."

And without waiting an answer he began to strum the symphony. The
first chords awoke a young man who was lying asleep upon a
neighbouring bench.

"Hullo!" cried the young man, "who are you?"

"Under which king, Bezonian?" declaimed the artist. "Speak or
die!"

Or if it was not exactly that, it was something to much the same
purpose from a French tragedy.

The young man drew near in the twilight. He was a tall, powerful,
gentlemanly fellow, with a somewhat puffy face, dressed in a grey
tweed suit, with a deer-stalker hat of the same material; and as he
now came forward he carried a knapsack slung upon one arm.

"Are you camping out here too?" he asked, with a strong English
accent. "I'm not sorry for company."

Leon explained their misadventure; and the other told them that he
was a Cambridge undergraduate on a walking tour, that he had run
short of money, could no longer pay for his night's lodging, had
already been camping out for two nights, and feared he should
require to continue the same manoeuvre for at least two nights
more.

"Luckily, it's jolly weather," he concluded.

"You hear that, Elvira," said Leon. "Madame Berthelini," he went
on, "is ridiculously affected by this trifling occurrence. For my
part, I find it romantic and far from uncomfortable; or at least,"
he added, shifting on the stone bench, "not quite so uncomfortable
as might have been expected. But pray be seated."

"Yes," returned the undergraduate, sitting down, "it's rather nice
than otherwise when once you're used to it; only it's devilish
difficult to get washed. I like the fresh air and these stars and
things."

"Aha!" said Leon, "Monsieur is an artist."

"An artist?" returned the other, with a blank stare. "Not if I
know it!"

"Pardon me," said the actor. "What you said this moment about the
orbs of heaven - "

"Oh, nonsense!" cried the Englishman. "A fellow may admire the
stars and be anything he likes."

"You have an artist's nature, however, Mr.- I beg your pardon; may
I, without indiscretion, inquire your name?" asked Leon.

"My name is Stubbs," replied the Englishman.

"I thank you," returned Leon. "Mine is Berthelini - Leon
Berthelini, ex-artist of the theatres of Montrouge, Belleville, and
Montmartre. Humble as you see me, I have created with applause
more than one important ROLE. The Press were unanimous in praise
of my Howling Devil of the Mountains, in the piece of the same
name. Madame, whom I now present to you, is herself an artist, and
I must not omit to state, a better artist than her husband. She
also is a creator; she created nearly twenty successful songs at
one of the principal Parisian music-halls. But, to continue, I was
saying you had an artist's nature, Monsieur Stubbs, and you must
permit me to be a judge in such a question. I trust you will not
falsify your instincts; let me beseech you to follow the career of
an artist."

"Thank you," returned Stubbs, with a chuckle. "I'm going to be a
banker."

"No," said Leon, "do not say so. Not that. A man with such a
nature as yours should not derogate so far. What are a few
privations here and there, so long as you are working for a high
and noble goal?"

"This fellow's mad," thought Stubbs; "but the woman's rather
pretty, and he's not bad fun himself, if you come to that." What
he said was different. "I thought you said you were an actor?"

"I certainly did so," replied Leon. "I am one, or, alas! I was."

"And so you want me to be an actor, do you?" continued the
undergraduate. "Why, man, I could never so much as learn the
stuff; my memory's like a sieve; and as for acting, I've no more
idea than a cat."

"The stage is not the only course," said Leon. "Be a sculptor, be
a dancer, be a poet or a novelist; follow your heart, in short, and
do some thorough work before you die."

"And do you call all these things ART?" inquired Stubbs.

"Why, certainly!" returned Leon. "Are they not all branches?"

"Oh! I didn't know," replied the Englishman. "I thought an artist
meant a fellow who painted."

The singer stared at him in some surprise.

"It is the difference of language," he said at last. "This Tower
of Babel, when shall we have paid for it? If I could speak English
you would follow me more readily."

"Between you and me, I don't believe I should," replied the other.
"You seem to have thought a devil of a lot about this business.
For my part, I admire the stars, and like to have them shining -
it's so cheery - but hang me if I had an idea it had anything to do
with art! It's not in my line, you see. I'm not intellectual; I
have no end of trouble to scrape through my exams., I can tell you!
But I'm not a bad sort at bottom," he added, seeing his
interlocutor looked distressed even in the dim starshine, "and I
rather like the play, and music, and guitars, and things."

Leon had a perception that the understanding was incomplete. He
changed the subject.

"And so you travel on foot?" he continued. "How romantic! How
courageous! And how are you pleased with my land? How does the
scenery affect you among these wild hills of ours?"

"Well, the fact is," began Stubbs - he was about to say that he
didn't care for scenery, which was not at all true, being, on the
contrary, only an athletic undergraduate pretension; but he had
begun to suspect that Berthelini liked a different sort of meat,
and substituted something else - "The fact is, I think it jolly.
They told me it was no good up here; even the guide-book said so;
but I don't know what they meant. I think it is deuced pretty -
upon my word, I do."

At this moment, in the most unexpected manner, Elvira burst into
tears.

"My voice!" she cried. "Leon, if I stay here longer I shall lose
my voice!"

"You shall not stay another moment," cried the actor. "If I have
to beat in a door, if I have to burn the town, I shall find you
shelter."

With that he replaced the guitar, and comforting her with some
caresses, drew her arm through his.

"Monsieur Stubbs," said he, taking of his hat, "the reception I
offer you is rather problematical; but let me beseech you to give
us the pleasure of your society. You are a little embarrassed for
the moment; you must, indeed, permit me to advance what may be
necessary. I ask it as a favour; we must not part so soon after
having met so strangely."

"Oh, come, you know," said Stubbs, "I can't let a fellow like you -
" And there he paused, feeling somehow or other on a wrong tack.

"I do not wish to employ menaces," continued Leon, with a smile;
"but if you refuse, indeed I shall not take it kindly."

"I don't quite see my way out of it," thought the undergraduate;
and then, after a pause, he said, aloud and ungraciously enough,
"All right. I - I'm very much obliged, of course." And he
proceeded to follow them, thinking in his heart, "But it's bad
form, all the same, to force an obligation on a fellow."

CHAPTER V

Leon strode ahead as if he knew exactly where he was going; the
sobs of Madame were still faintly audible, and no one uttered a
word. A dog barked furiously in a courtyard as they went by; then
the church clock struck two, and many domestic clocks followed or
preceded it in piping tones. And just then Berthelini spied a
light. It burned in a small house on the outskirts of the town,
and thither the party now directed their steps.

"It is always a chance," said Leon.

The house in question stood back from the street behind an open
space, part garden, part turnip-field; and several outhouses stood
forward from either wing at right angles to the front. One of
these had recently undergone some change. An enormous window,
looking towards the north, had been effected in the wall and roof,
and Leon began to hope it was a studio.

"If it's only a painter," he said with a chuckle, "ten to one we
get as good a welcome as we want."

"I thought painters were principally poor," said Stubbs.

"Ah!" cried Leon, "you do not know the world as I do. The poorer
the better for us!"

And the trio advanced into the turnip-field.

The light was in the ground floor; as one window was brightly
illuminated and two others more faintly, it might be supposed that
there was a single lamp in one corner of a large apartment; and a
certain tremulousness and temporary dwindling showed that a live
fire contributed to the effect. The sound of a voice now became
audible; and the trespassers paused to listen. It was pitched in a
high, angry key, but had still a good, full, and masculine note in
it. The utterance was voluble, too voluble even to be quite
distinct; a stream of words, rising and falling, with ever and
again a phrase thrown out by itself, as if the speaker reckoned on
its virtue.

Suddenly another voice joined in. This time it was a woman's; and
if the man were angry, the woman was incensed to the degree of
fury. There was that absolutely blank composure known to suffering
males; that colourless unnatural speech which shows a spirit
accurately balanced between homicide and hysterics; the tone in
which the best of women sometimes utter words worse than death to
those most dear to them. If Abstract Bones-and-Sepulchre were to
be endowed with the gift of speech, thus, and not otherwise, would
it discourse. Leon was a brave man, and I fear he was somewhat
sceptically given (he had been educated in a Papistical country),
but the habit of childhood prevailed, and he crossed himself
devoutly. He had met several women in his career. It was obvious
that his instinct had not deceived him, for the male voice broke
forth instantly in a towering passion.

The undergraduate, who had not understood the significance of the
woman's contribution, pricked up his ears at the change upon the
man.

"There's going to be a free fight," he opined.

There was another retort from the woman, still calm but a little
higher.

"Hysterics?" asked Leon of his wife. "Is that the stage
direction?"

"How should I know?" returned Elvira, somewhat tartly.

"Oh, woman, woman!" said Leon, beginning to open the guitar-case.
"It is one of the burdens of my life, Monsieur Stubbs; they support
each other; they always pretend there is no system; they say it's
nature. Even Madame Berthelini, who is a dramatic artist!"

"You are heartless, Leon," said Elvira; "that woman is in trouble."

"And the man, my angel?" inquired Berthelini, passing the ribbon of
his guitar. "And the man, M'AMOUR?"

"He is a man," she answered.

"You hear that?" said Leon to Stubbs. "It is not too late for you.
Mark the intonation. And now," he continued, "what are we to give
them?"

"Are you going to sing?" asked Stubbs.

"I am a troubadour," replied Leon. "I claim a welcome by and for
my art. If I were a banker could I do as much?"

"Well, you wouldn't need, you know," answered the undergraduate.

"Egad," said Leon, "but that's true. Elvira, that is true."

"Of course it is," she replied. "Did you not know it?"

"My dear," answered Leon impressively, "I know nothing but what is
agreeable. Even my knowledge of life is a work of art superiorly
composed. But what are we to give them? It should be something
appropriate."

Visions of "Let dogs delight" passed through the undergraduate's
mind; but it occurred to him that the poetry was English and that
he did not know the air. Hence he contributed no suggestion.

"Something about our houselessness," said Elvira.

"I have it," cried Leon. And he broke forth into a song of Pierre
Dupont's:-


"Savez-vous ou gite,
Mai, ce joli mois?"


Elvira joined in; so did Stubbs, with a good ear and voice, but an
imperfect acquaintance with the music. Leon and the guitar were
equal to the situation. The actor dispensed his throat-notes with
prodigality and enthusiasm; and, as he looked up to heaven in his
heroic way, tossing the black ringlets, it seemed to him that the
very stars contributed a dumb applause to his efforts, and the
universe lent him its silence for a chorus. That is one of the
best features of the heavenly bodies, that they belong to everybody
in particular; and a man like Leon, a chronic Endymion who managed
to get along without encouragement, is always the world's centre
for himself.

He alone - and it is to be noted, he was the worst singer of the
three - took the music seriously to heart, and judged the serenade
from a high artistic point of view. Elvira, on the other hand, was
preoccupied about their reception; and, as for Stubbs, he
considered the whole affair in the light of a broad joke.

"Know you the lair of May, the lovely month?" went the three voices
in the turnip-field.

The inhabitants were plainly fluttered; the light moved to and fro,
strengthening in one window, paling in another; and then the door
was thrown open, and a man in a blouse appeared on the threshold
carrying a lamp. He was a powerful young fellow, with bewildered
hair and beard, wearing his neck open; his blouse was stained with
oil-colours in a harlequinesque disorder; and there was something
rural in the droop and bagginess of his belted trousers.

From immediately behind him, and indeed over his shoulder, a
woman's face looked out into the darkness; it was pale and a little
weary, although still young; it wore a dwindling, disappearing
prettiness, soon to be quite gone, and the expression was both
gentle and sour, and reminded one faintly of the taste of certain
drugs. For all that, it was not a face to dislike; when the
prettiness had vanished, it seemed as if a certain pale beauty
might step in to take its place; and as both the mildness and the
asperity were characters of youth, it might be hoped that, with
years, both would merge into a constant, brave, and not unkindly
temper.

"What is all this?" cried the man.

CHAPTER VI

Leon had his hat in his hand at once. He came forward with his
customary grace; it was a moment which would have earned him a
round of cheering on the stage. Elvira and Stubbs advanced behind
him, like a couple of Admetus's sheep following the god Apollo.

"Sir," said Leon, "the hour is unpardonably late, and our little
serenade has the air of an impertinence. Believe me, sir, it is an
appeal. Monsieur is an artist, I perceive. We are here three
artists benighted and without shelter, one a woman - a delicate
woman - in evening dress - in an interesting situation. This will
not fail to touch the woman's heart of Madame, whom I perceive
indistinctly behind Monsieur her husband, and whose face speaks
eloquently of a well-regulated mind. Ah! Monsieur, Madame - one
generous movement, and you make three people happy! Two or three
hours beside your fire - I ask it of Monsieur in the name of Art -
I ask it of Madame by the sanctity of womanhood."

The two, as by a tacit consent, drew back from the door.

"Come in," said the man.

"Entrez, Madame," said the woman.

The door opened directly upon the kitchen of the house, which was
to all appearance the only sitting-room. The furniture was both
plain and scanty; but there were one or two landscapes on the wall
handsomely framed, as if they had already visited the committee-
rooms of an exhibition and been thence extruded. Leon walked up to
the pictures and represented the part of a connoisseur before each
in turn, with his usual dramatic insight and force. The master of
the house, as if irresistibly attracted, followed him from canvas
to canvas with the lamp. Elvira was led directly to the fire,
where she proceeded to warm herself, while Stubbs stood in the
middle of the floor and followed the proceedings of Leon with mild
astonishment in his eyes.

"You should see them by daylight," said the artist.

"I promise myself that pleasure," said Leon. "You possess, sir, if
you will permit me an observation, the art of composition to a T."

"You are very good," returned the other. "But should you not draw
nearer to the fire?"

"With all my heart," said Leon.

And the whole party was soon gathered at the table over a hasty and
not an elegant cold supper, washed down with the least of small
wines. Nobody liked the meal, but nobody complained; they put a
good face upon it, one and all, and made a great clattering of
knives and forks. To see Leon eating a single cold sausage was to
see a triumph; by the time he had done he had got through as much
pantomime as would have sufficed for a baron of beef, and he had
the relaxed expression of the over-eaten.

As Elvira had naturally taken a place by the side of Leon, and
Stubbs as naturally, although I believe unconsciously, by the side
of Elvira, the host and hostess were left together. Yet it was to
be noted that they never addressed a word to each other, nor so
much as suffered their eyes to meet. The interrupted skirmish
still survived in ill-feeling; and the instant the guests departed
it would break forth again as bitterly as ever. The talk wandered
from this to that subject - for with one accord the party had
declared it was too late to go to bed; but those two never relaxed
towards each other; Goneril and Regan in a sisterly tiff were not
more bent on enmity.

It chanced that Elvira was so much tired by all the little
excitements of the night, that for once she laid aside her company
manners, which were both easy and correct, and in the most natural
manner in the world leaned her head on Leon's shoulder. At the
same time, fatigue suggesting tenderness, she locked the fingers of
her right hand into those of her husband's left; and, half closing
her eyes, dozed off into a golden borderland between sleep and
waking. But all the time she was not aware of what was passing,
and saw the painter's wife studying her with looks between contempt
and envy.

It occurred to Leon that his constitution demanded the use of some
tobacco; and he undid his fingers from Elvira's in order to roll a
cigarette. It was gently done, and he took care that his
indulgence should in no other way disturb his wife's position. But
it seemed to catch the eye of the painter's wife with a special
significancy. She looked straight before her for an instant, and
then, with a swift and stealthy movement, took hold of her
husband's hand below the table. Alas! she might have spared
herself the dexterity. For the poor fellow was so overcome by this
caress that he stopped with his mouth open in the middle of a word,
and by the expression of his face plainly declared to all the
company that his thoughts had been diverted into softer channels.

If it had not been rather amiable, it would have been absurdly
droll. His wife at once withdrew her touch; but it was plain she
had to exert some force. Thereupon the young man coloured and
looked for a moment beautiful.

Leon and Elvira both observed the byplay, and a shock passed from
one to the other; for they were inveterate match-makers, especially
between those who were already married.

"I beg your pardon," said Leon suddenly. "I see no use in
pretending. Before we came in here we heard sounds indicating - if
I may so express myself - an imperfect harmony."

"Sir - " began the man.

But the woman was beforehand.

"It is quite true," she said. "I see no cause to be ashamed. If
my husband is mad I shall at least do my utmost to prevent the
consequences. Picture to yourself, Monsieur and Madame," she went
on, for she passed Stubbs over, "that this wretched person - a
dauber, an incompetent, not fit to be a sign-painter - receives
this morning an admirable offer from an uncle - an uncle of my own,
my mother's brother, and tenderly beloved - of a clerkship with
nearly a hundred and fifty pounds a year, and that he - picture to
yourself! - he refuses it! Why? For the sake of Art, he says.
Look at his art, I say - look at it! Is it fit to be seen? Ask
him - is it fit to be sold? And it is for this, Monsieur and
Madame, that he condemns me to the most deplorable existence,
without luxuries, without comforts, in a vile suburb of a country
town. O non!" she cried, "non - je ne me tairai pas - c'est plus
fort que moi! I take these gentlemen and this lady for judges - is
this kind? is it decent? is it manly? Do I not deserve better at
his hands after having married him and" - (a visible hitch) - "done
everything in the world to please him."

I doubt if there were ever a more embarrassed company at a table;
every one looked like a fool; and the husband like the biggest.

"The art of Monsieur, however," said Elvira, breaking the silence,
"is not wanting in distinction."

"It has this distinction," said the wife, "that nobody will buy
it."

"I should have supposed a clerkship - " began Stubbs.

"Art is Art," swept in Leon. "I salute Art. It is the beautiful,
the divine; it is the spirit of the world, and the pride of life.
But - " And the actor paused.

"A clerkship - " began Stubbs.

"I'll tell you what it is," said the painter. "I am an artist, and
as this gentleman says, Art is this and the other; but of course,
if my wife is going to make my life a piece of perdition all day
long, I prefer to go and drown myself out of hand."

"Go!" said his wife. "I should like to see you!"

"I was going to say," resumed Stubbs, "that a fellow may be a clerk
and paint almost as much as he likes. I know a fellow in a bank
who makes capital water-colour sketches; he even sold one for
seven-and-six."

To both the women this seemed a plank of safety; each hopefully
interrogated the countenance of her lord; even Elvira, an artist
herself! - but indeed there must be something permanently
mercantile in the female nature. The two men exchanged a glance;
it was tragic; not otherwise might two philosophers salute, as at
the end of a laborious life each recognised that he was still a
mystery to his disciples.

Leon arose.

"Art is Art," he repeated sadly. "It is not water-colour sketches,
nor practising on a piano. It is a life to be lived."

"And in the meantime people starve!" observed the woman of the
house. "If that's a life, it is not one for me."

"I'll tell you what," burst forth Leon; "you, Madame, go into
another room and talk it over with my wife; and I'll stay here and
talk it over with your husband. It may come to nothing, but let's
try."

"I am very willing," replied the young woman; and she proceeded to
light a candle. "This way if you please." And she led Elvira
upstairs into a bedroom. "The fact is," said she, sitting down,
"that my husband cannot paint."

"No more can mine act," replied Elvira.

"I should have thought he could," returned the other; "he seems
clever."

"He is so, and the best of men besides," said Elvira; "but he
cannot act."

"At least he is not a sheer humbug like mine; he can at least
sing."

"You mistake Leon," returned his wife warmly. "He does not even
pretend to sing; he has too fine a taste; he does so for a living.
And, believe me, neither of the men are humbugs. They are people
with a mission - which they cannot carry out."

"Humbug or not," replied the other, "you came very near passing the
night in the fields; and, for my part, I live in terror of
starvation. I should think it was a man's mission to think twice
about his wife. But it appears not. Nothing is their mission but
to play the fool. Oh!" she broke out, "is it not something dreary
to think of that man of mine? If he could only do it, who would
care? But no - not he - no more than I can!"

"Have you any children?" asked Elvira.

"No; but then I may."

"Children change so much," said Elvira, with a sigh.

And just then from the room below there flew up a sudden snapping
chord on the guitar; one followed after another; then the voice of
Leon joined in; and there was an air being played and sung that
stopped the speech of the two women. The wife of the painter stood
like a person transfixed; Elvira, looking into her eyes, could see
all manner of beautiful memories and kind thoughts that were
passing in and out of her soul with every note; it was a piece of
her youth that went before her; a green French plain, the smell of
apple-flowers, the far and shining ringlets of a river, and the
words and presence of love.

"Leon has hit the nail," thought Elvira to herself. "I wonder
how."

The how was plain enough. Leon had asked the painter if there were
no air connected with courtship and pleasant times; and having
learnt what he wished, and allowed an interval to pass, he had
soared forth into


"O mon amante,
O mon desir,
Sachons cueillir
L'heure charmante!"


"Pardon me, Madame," said the painter's wife, "your husband sings
admirably well."

"He sings that with some feeling," replied Elvira, critically,
although she was a little moved herself, for the song cut both ways
in the upper chamber; "but it is as an actor and not as a
musician."

"Life is very sad," said the other; "it so wastes away under one's
fingers."

"I have not found it so," replied Elvira. "I think the good parts
of it last and grow greater every day."

"Frankly, how would you advise me?"

"Frankly, I would let my husband do what he wished. He is
obviously a very loving painter; you have not yet tried him as a
clerk. And you know - if it were only as the possible father of
your children - it is as well to keep him at his best."

"He is an excellent fellow," said the wife.


They kept it up till sunrise with music and all manner of good
fellowship; and at sunrise, while the sky was still temperate and
clear, they separated on the threshold with a thousand excellent
wishes for each other's welfare. Castel-le-Gachis was beginning to
send up its smoke against the golden East; and the church bell was
ringing six.

"My guitar is a familiar spirit," said Leon, as he and Elvira took
the nearest way towards the inn, "it resuscitated a Commissary,
created an English tourist, and reconciled a man and wife."

Stubbs, on his part, went off into the morning with reflections of
his own.

"They are all mad," thought he, "all mad - but wonderfully decent."

Robert Louis Stevenson