Volume III
Chapter XIII. He Journeys Afar
 

Politicians gossiped. Where was the new member? His friends could not tell, further than that he had gone abroad. Lord Faramond did not know, but fetched out his lower lip knowingly.

"The fellow has instinct for the game," he said. Sketches, portraits were in the daily and weekly journals, and one hardy journalist even gave an interview--which had never occurred. But Gaston remained a picturesque nine-days' figure, and then Parliament rose for the year.

Meanwhile he was in Paris, and every morning early he could be seen with Jacques riding up the Champs Elysee and out to the Bois de Boulogne. Every afternoon at three he sat for "Monmouth" or the "King of Ys" with his horse in his uncle's garden.

Ian Belward might have lived in a fashionable part; he preferred the Latin Quarter, with incursions into the other at fancy. Gaston lived for three days in the Boulevard Haussman, and then took apartments, neither expensive nor fashionable, in a quiet street. He was surrounded by students and artists, a few great men and a host of small men: Collarossi's school here and Delacluse's there: models flitting in and out of the studios in his court-yard, who stared at him as he rode, and sought to gossip with Jacques--accomplished without great difficulty.

Jacques was transformed. A cheerful hue grew on his face. He had been an exile, he was now at home. His French tongue ran, now with words in the patois of Normandy, now of Brittany; and all with the accent of French Canada, an accent undisturbed by the changes and growths of France. He gossiped, but no word escaped him which threw any light on his master's history.

Soon, in the Latin Quarter, they were as notable as they had been at Ridley Court or in London. On the Champs Elysee side people stared at the two: chiefly because of Gaston's splendid mount and Jacques's strange broncho. But they felt that they were at home. Gaston's French was not perfect, but it was enough for his needs. He got a taste of that freedom which he had handed over to the dungeons of convention two years before. He breathed. Everything interested him so much that the life he had led in England seemed very distant.

He wrote to Delia, of course. His letters were brief, most interesting, not tenderly intimate, and not daily. From the first they puzzled her a little, and continued to do so; but because her mother said, "What an impossible man!" she said, "Perfectly possible! Of course he is not like other men; he is a genius."

And the days went on.

Gaston little loved the purlieus of the Place de l'Opera. One evening at a club in the Boulevard Malesherbes bored him. It was merely Anglo- American enjoyment, dashed with French drama. The Bois was more to his taste, for he could stretch his horse's legs; but every day he could be found before some simple cafe in Montparnasse, sipping vermouth, and watching the gay, light life about him. He sat up with delight to see an artist and his "Madame" returning from a journey in the country, seated upon sheaves of corn, quite unregarded by the world; doing as they listed with unabashed simplicity. He dined often at the little Hotel St. Malo near the Gare Montparnasse, where the excellent landlord played the host, father, critic, patron, comrade--often benefactor--to his bons enfants. He drank vin ordinaire, smoked caporal cigarettes, made friends, and was in all as a savage--or a much-travelled English gentleman.

His uncle Ian had introduced him here as at other places of the kind, and, whatever his ulterior object was, had an artist's pleasure at seeing a layman enjoy the doings of Paris art life. Himself lived more luxuriously. In an avenue not far from the Luxembourg he had a small hotel with a fine old-fashioned garden behind it, and here distinguished artists, musicians, actors, and actresses came at times.

The evening of Gaston's arrival he took him to a cafe and dined him, and afterwards to the Boullier--there, merely that he might see; but this place had nothing more than a passing interest for him. His mind had the poetry of a free, simple--even wild-life, but he had no instinct for vice in the name of amusement. But the later hours spent in the garden under the stars, the cheerful hum of the boulevards coming to them distantly, stung his veins like good wine. They sat and talked, with no word of England in it at all, Jacques near, listening.

Ian Belward was at his best: genial, entertaining, with the art of the man of no principles, no convictions, and a keen sense of life's sublime incongruities. Even Jacques, whose sense of humour had grown by long association with Gaston, enjoyed the piquant conversation. The next evening the same. About ten o'clock a few men dropped in: a sculptor, artists, and Meyerbeer, an American newspaper correspondent--who, however, was not known as such to Gaston.

This evening Ian determined to make Gaston talk. To deepen a man's love for a thing, get him to talk of it to the eager listener--he passes from the narrator to the advocate unconsciously. Gaston was not to talk of England, but of the North, of Canada, of Mexico, the Lotos Isles. He did so picturesquely, yet simply too, in imperfect but sufficient French. But as he told of one striking incident in the Rockies, he heard Jacques make a quick expression of dissent. He smiled. He had made some mistake in detail. Now, Jacques had been in his young days in Quebec the village story-teller; one who, by inheritance or competency, becomes semi- officially a raconteur for the parish; filling in winter evenings, nourishing summer afternoons, with tales, weird, childlike, daring.

Now Gaston turned and said to Jacques:

"Well, Brillon, I've forgotten, as you see; tell them how it was."

Two hours later when Jacques retired on some errand, amid ripe applause, Ian said:

"You've got an artist there, Cadet: that description of the fight with the loop garoo was as good as a thing from Victor Hugo. Hugo must have heard just such yarns, and spun them on the pattern. Upon my soul, it's excellent stuff. You've lived, you two."

Another night Ian Belward gave a dinner, at which were present an actress, a singer of some repute, the American journalist, and others. Something that was said sent Gaston's mind to the House of Commons. Presently he saw himself in a ridiculous picture: a buffalo dragging the Treasury Bench about the Chamber; as one conjures things in an absurd dream. He laughed outright, at a moment when Mademoiselle Cerise was telling of a remarkable effect she produced one night in "Fedora," unpremeditated, inspired; and Mademoiselle Cerise, with smiling lips and eyes like daggers, called him a bear. This brought him to him self, and he swam with the enjoyment. He did enjoy it, but not as his uncle wished and hoped. Gaston did not respond eagerly to the charms of Mademoiselle Cerise and Madame Juliette.

Was Delia, then, so strong in the barbarian's mind? He could not think so, but Gaston had not shown yet, either for model, for daughter of joy, or for the mademoiselles of the stage any disposition to an amour or a misalliance; and either would be interesting and sufficient! Models went in and out of Ian's studio and the studios of others, and Gaston chatted with them at times; and once he felt the bare arm and bare breast of a girl as she sat for a nymph, and said in an interested way that her flesh was as firm and fine as a Tongan's. He even disputed with his uncle on the tints of her skin, on seeing him paint it in, showing a fine eye for colour. But there was nothing more; he was impressed, observant, interested--that was all. His uncle began to wonder if the Englishman was, after all, deeper in the grain than the savage. He contented himself with the belief that the most vigorous natures are the most difficult to rouse. Mademoiselle Cerise sang, with chic and abandon very fascinating to his own sensuous nature, a song with a charming air and sentiment. It was after a night at the opera when they had seen her in "Lucia," and the contrast, as she sang in his garden, softly lighted, showed her at the most attractive angles. She drifted from a sparkling chanson to the delicate pathos of a song of De Musset's.

Gaston responded to the artist; but to the woman--no. He had seen a new life, even in its abandon, polite, fresh. It amused him, but he could still turn to the remembrance of Delia without blushing, for he had come to this in the spirit of the idler, not the libertine. Mademoiselle Cerise said to Ian at last:

"Enfin, is the man stone? As handsome as a leopard, too! But, it is no matter."

She made another effort to interest him, however. It galled her that he did not fall at her feet as others had done. Even Ian had come there in his day, but she knew him too well. She had said to him at the time: "You, monsieur? No, thank you. A week, a month, and then the brute in you would out. You make a woman fond, and then--a mat for your feet, and your wicked smile, and savage English words to drive her to the vitriol or the Seine. Et puis, dear monsieur, accept my good friendship; nothing more. I will sing to you, dance to you, even pray for you--we poor sinners do that sometimes, and go on sinning; but, again, nothing more."

Ian admired her all the more for her refusal of him, and they had been good friends. He had told her of his nephew's coming, had hinted at his fortune, at his primitive soul, at the unconventional strain in him, even at marriage. She could not read his purpose, but she knew there was something, and answering him with a yes, had waited. Had Gaston have come to her feet she would probably have got at the truth somehow, and have worked in his favour--the joy vice takes to side with virtue, at times--when it is at no personal sacrifice. But Gaston was superior in a grand way. He was simple, courteous, interested only. This stung her, and she would bring him to his knees, if she could. This night she had rung all the changes, and had done no more than get his frank applause. She became petulant in an airy, exacting way. She asked him about his horse. This interested him. She wanted to see it. To-morrow? No, no, now. Perhaps to-morrow she would not care to; there was no joy in deliberate pleasure. Now--now--now! He laughed. Well then, now, as she wished!

Jacques was called. She said to him:

"Come here, little comrade." Jacques came. "Look at me," she added. She fixed her eyes on him, and smiled. She was in the soft flare of the lights.

"Well," she said after a moment, "what do you think of me?"

Jacques was confused. "Madame is beautiful."

"The eyes?!" she urged.

"I have been to Gaspe, and west to Esquimault, and in England, but I have never seen such as those," he said. Race and primitive man spoke there.

She laughed. "Come closer, little man."

He did so. She suddenly rose, dropped her hands on his shoulders, and kissed his cheek.

"Now bring the horse, and I will kiss him too."

Did she think she could rouse Gaston by kissing his servant? Yet it did not disgust him. He knew it was a bit of acting, and it was well done. Besides, Jacques Brillon was not a mere servant, and he, too, had done well. She sat back and laughed lightly when Jacques was gone. Then she said: "The honest fellow!" and hummed an air:

                  "'The pretty coquette
                    Well she needs to be wise,
                    Though she strike to the heart
                    By a glance of her eyes.

                    "'For the daintiest bird
                    Is the sport of the storm,
                    And the rose fadeth most
                    When the bosom is warm.'"

In twenty minutes the gate of the garden opened, and Jacques appeared with Saracen. The horse's black skin glistened in the lights, and he tossed his head and champed his bit. Gaston rose. Mademoiselle Cerise sprang to her feet and ran forward. Jacques put out his hand to stop her, and Gaston caught her shoulder. "He's wicked with strangers," Gaston said. "Chat!" she rejoined, stepped quickly to the horse's head and, laughing, put out her hand to stroke him. Jacques caught the beast's nose, and stopped a lunge of the great white teeth.

"Enough, madame, he will kill you!"

"Yet I am beautiful--is it not so?"

"The poor beast is ver' blind."

"A pretty compliment," she rejoined, yet angry at the beast.

Gaston came, took the animal's head in his hands, and whispered. Saracen became tranquil. Gaston beckoned to Mademoiselle Cerise. She came. He took her hand in his and put it at the horse's lips. The horse whinnied angrily at first, but permitted a caress from the actress's fingers.

"He does not make friends easily," said Gaston. "Nor does his master."

Her eyes lifted to his, the lids drooping suggestively. "But when the pact is made--!"

"Till death us do part?"

"Death or ruin."

"Death is better."

"That depends!"

"Ah! I understand," she said.

"On--the woman?"

"Yes."

Then he became silent. "Mount the horse," she urged.

Gaston sprang at one bound upon the horse's bare back. Saracen reared and wheeled.

"Splendid!" she said; then, presently: "Take me up with you."

He looked doubting for a moment, then whispered to the horse.

"Come quickly," he said.

She came to the side of the horse. He stooped, caught her by the waist, and lifted her up. Saracen reared, but Gaston had him down in a moment.

Ian Belward suddenly called out:

"For God's sake, keep that pose for five minutes--only five!" He caught up some canvas. "Hold candles near them," he said to the others. They did so. With great swiftness he sketched in the strange picture. It looked weird, almost savage: Gaston's large form, his legs loose at the horse's side, the woman in her white drapery clinging to him.

In a little time the artist said:

"There; that will do. Ten such sittings and my 'King of Ys' will have its day with the world. I'd give two fortunes for the chance of it."

The woman's heart had beat fast with Gaston's arm around her. He felt the thrill of the situation. Man, woman, and horse were as of a piece.

But Cerise knew, when Gaston let her to the ground again, that she had not conquered.