Volume III
Chapter XIV. In Which the Past is Repeated
 

Next morning Gaston was visited by Meyerbeer the American journalist, of whose profession he was still ignorant. He saw him only as a man of raw vigour of opinion, crude manners, and heavy temperament. He had not been friendly to him at night, and he was surprised at the morning visit. The hour was such that Gaston must ask him to breakfast. The two were soon at the table of the Hotel St. Malo. Meyerbeer sniffed the air when he saw the place. The linen was ordinary, the rooms small; but all--he did not take this into account--irreproachably clean. The walls were covered with pictures; some taken for unpaid debts, gifts from students since risen to fame or gone into the outer darkness,--to young artists' eyes, the sordid moneymaking world,--and had there been lost; from a great artist or two who remembered the days of his youth and the good host who had seen many little colonies of artists come and go.

They sat down to the table, which was soon filled with students and artists. Then Meyerbeer began to see, not only an interesting thing, but "copy." He was, in fact, preparing a certain article which, as he said to himself, would "make 'em sit up" in London and New York. He had found out Gaston's history, had read his speech in the Commons, had seen paragraphs speculating as to where he was; and now he, Salem Meyerbeer, would tell them what the wild fellow was doing. The Bullier, the cafes in the Latin Quarter, apartments in a humble street, dining for one- franc-fifty, supping with actresses, posing for the King of Ys with that actress in his arms--all excellent in their way. But now there was needed an entanglement, intrigue, amour, and then America should shriek at his picture of one of the British aristocracy, and a gentleman of the Commons, "on the loose," as he put it.

He would head it:

               "ARISTOCRAT, POLITICIAN, LIBERTINE!"

Then, under that he would put:

               "CAN THE ETHIOPIAN CHANGE HIS SKIN, OR THE
                    LEOPARD HIS SPOTS?"  Jer. xi. 23.

The morality of such a thing? Morality only had to do with ruining a girl's name, or robbery. How did it concern this?

So Mr. Meyerbeer kept his ears open. Presently one of the students said to Bagshot, a young artist: "How does the dompteuse come on?"

"Well, I think it's chic enough. She's magnificent. The colour of her skin against the lions was splendid to-day: a regular rich gold with a sweet stain of red like a leaf of maize in September. There's never been such a Una. I've got my chance; and if I don't pull it off,

              'Wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket,
                And say a poor buffer lies low!'"

"Get the jacket ready," put in a young Frenchman, sneering.

The Englishman's jaw hardened, but he replied coolly

"What do you know about it?"

"I know enough. The Comte Ploare visits her."

"How the devil does that concern my painting her?" There was iron in Bagshot's voice.

"Who says you are painting her?"

The insult was conspicuous. Gaston quickly interposed. His clear strong voice rang down the table: "Will you let me come and see your canvas some day soon, Mr. Bagshot? I remember your picture 'A Passion in the Desert,' at the Academy this year. A fine thing: the leopard was free and strong. As an Englishman, I am proud to meet you."

The young Frenchman stared. The quarrel had passed to a new and unexpected quarter. Gaston's large, solid body, strong face, and penetrating eyes were not to be sneered out of sight. The Frenchman, an envious, disappointed artist, had had in his mind a bloodless duel, to give a fillip to an unacquired fame. He had, however, been drinking. He flung an insolent glance to meet Gaston's steady look, and said:

"The cock crows of his dunghill!"

Gaston looked at the landlord, then got up calmly and walked down the table. The Frenchman, expecting he knew not what, sprang to his feet, snatching up a knife; but Gaston was on him like a hawk, pinioning his arms and lifting him off the ground, binding his legs too, all so tight that the Frenchman squealed for breath.

"Monsieur," said Gaston to the landlord, "from the door or the window?"

The landlord was pale. It was in some respects a quarrel of races. For, French and English at the tables had got up and were eyeing each other. As to the immediate outcome of the quarrel, there could be no doubt. The English and Americans could break the others to pieces; but neither wished that. The landlord decided the matter:

"Drop him from this window."

He pushed a shutter back, and Gaston dropped the fellow on the hard pavement--a matter of five feet. The Frenchman got up raging, and made for the door; but this time he was met by the landlord, who gave him his hat, and bade him come no more. There was applause from both English and French. The journalist chuckled--another column!

Gaston had acted with coolness and common-sense; and when he sat down and began talking of the Englishman's picture again as if nothing had happened, the others followed, and the meal went on cheerfully.

Presently another young English painter entered, and listened to the conversation, which Gaston brought back to Una and the lions. It was his way to force things to his liking, if possible; and he wanted to hear about the woman--why, he did not ask himself. The new arrival, Fancourt by name, kept looking at him quizzically. Gaston presently said that he would visit the menagerie and see this famous dompteuse that afternoon.

"She's a brick," said Bagshot. "I was in debt, a year behind with my Pelletier here, and it took all I got for 'A Passion in the Desert' to square up. I'd nothing to go on with. I spent my last sou in visiting the menagerie. There I got an idea. I went to her, told her how I was fixed, and begged her to give me a chance. By Jingo! she brought the water to my eyes. Some think she's a bit of a devil; but she can be a devil of a saint, that's all I've got to say."

"Zoug-Zoug's responsible for the devil," said Fancourt to Bagshot.

"Shut up, Fan," rejoined Bagshot, hurriedly, and then whispered to him quickly.

Fancourt sent self-conscious glances down the table towards Gaston; and then a young American, newly come to Paris, said:

"Who's Zoug-Zoug, and what's Zoug-Zoug?"

"It's milk for babes, youngster," answered Bagshot quickly, and changed the conversation.

Gaston saw something strange in the little incident; but he presently forgot it for many a day, and then remembered it for many a day, when the wheel had spun through a wild arc.

When they rose from the table, Meyerbeer went to Bagshot, and said:

"Say, who's Zoug-Zoug, anyway?!" Bagshot coolly replied:

"I'm acting for another paper. What price?"

"Fifty dollars," in a low voice, eagerly. Bagshot meditated.

"H'm, fifty dollars! Two hundred and fifty francs, or thereabouts. Beggarly!"

"A hundred, then."

Bagshot got to his feet, lighting a cigarette.

"Want to have a pretty story against a woman, and to smutch a man, do you? Well, I'm hard up; I don't mind gossip among ourselves; but sell the stuff to you--I'll see you damned first!"

This was said sufficiently loud; and after that, Meyerbeer could not ask Fancourt, so he departed with Gaston, who courteously dismissed him, to his astonishment and regret, for he had determined to visit the menagerie with his quarry.

Gaston went to his apartments, and cheerily summoned Jacques.

"Now, little man, for a holiday! The menagerie: lions, leopards, and a grand dompteuse; and afterwards dinner with me at the Cafe Blanche. I want a blow-out of lions and that sort. I'd like to be a lion-tamer myself for a month, or as long as might be."

He caught Jacques by the shoulders--he had not done so since that memorable day at Ridley Court. "See, Jacques, we'll do this every year. Six months in England, and three months on the Continent,--in your France, if you like,--and three months in the out-of-the-wayest place, where there'll be big game. Hidalgos for six months, Goths for the rest."

A half-hour later they were in the menagerie. They sat near the doors where the performers entered. For a long time they watched the performance with delight, clapping and calling bravo like boys. Presently the famous dompteuse entered,--Mademoiselle Victorine,--passing just below Gaston. He looked down, interested, at the supple, lithe creature making for the cages of lions in the amphitheatre. The figure struck him as familiar. Presently the girl turned, throwing a glance round the theatre. He caught the dash of the dark, piercing eyes, the luminous look, the face unpainted--in its own natural colour: neither hot health nor paleness, but a thing to bear the light of day. "Andree the gipsy!" he exclaimed in a low tone.

In less than two years this! Here was fame. A wanderer, an Ishmael then, her handful of household goods and her father in the grasp of the Law: to-day, Mademoiselle Victorine, queen of animal-tamers! And her name associated with the Comte Ploare!

With the Comte Ploare? Had it come to that? He remembered the look in her face when he bade her good-bye. Impossible! Then, immediately he laughed.

Why impossible? And why should he bother his head about it? People of this sort: Mademoiselle Cerise, Madame Juliette, Mademoiselle Victorine-- what were they to him, or to themselves?

There flashed through his brain three pictures: when he stood by the bedside of the old dying Esquimaux in Labrador, and took a girl's hand in his; when among the flowers at Peppingham he heard Delia say: "Oh, Gaston! Gaston!" and Alice's face at midnight in the moonlit window at Ridley Court.

How strange this figure--spangled, gaudy, standing among her lions-- seemed by these. To think of her, his veins thumping thus, was an insult to all three: to Delia, one unpardonable. And yet he could not take his eyes off her. Her performance was splendid. He was interested, speculative. She certainly had flown high; for, again, why should not a dompteuse be a decent woman? And here were money, fame of a kind, and an occupation that sent his blood bounding. A dompteur! He had tamed moose, and young mountain lions, and a catamount, and had had mad hours with pumas and arctic bears; and he could understand how even he might easily pass from M.P. to dompteur. It was not intellectual, but it was power of a kind; and it was decent, and healthy, and infinitely better than playing the Jew in business, or keeping a tavern, or "shaving" notes, and all that. Truly, the woman was to be admired, for she was earning an honest living; and no doubt they lied when they named her with Count Ploare. He kept coming back to that--Count Ploare! Why could they not leave these women alone? Did they think none of them virtuous? He would stake his life that Andree--he would call her that--was as straight as the sun.

"What do you think of her, Jacques?!" he said suddenly.

"It is grand. Mon Dieu, she is wonderful--and a face all fire!"

Presently she came out of the cage, followed by two great lions. She walked round the ring, a hand on the head of each: one growling, the other purring against her, with a ponderous kind of affection. She talked to them as they went, giving occasionally a deep purring sound like their own. Her talk never ceased. She looked at the audience, but only as in a dream. Her mind was all with the animals. There was something splendid in it: she, herself, was a noble animal; and she seemed entirely in place where she was. The lions were fond of her, and she of them; but the first part of her performance had shown that they could be capricious. A lion's love is but a lion's love after all--and hers likewise, no doubt! The three seemed as one in their beauty, the woman superbly superior. Meyerbeer, in a far corner, was still on the trail of his sensation. He thought that he might get an article out of it--with the help of Count Ploare and Zoug-Zoug. Who was Zoug-Zoug? He exulted in her picturesqueness, and he determined to lie in wait. He thought it a pity that Comte Ploare was not an Englishman or an American; but it couldn't be helped. Yes, she was, as he said to himself, "a stunner." Meanwhile he watched Gaston, noted his intense interest.

Presently the girl stopped beside the cage. A chariot was brought out, and the two lions were harnessed to it. Then she called out another larger lion, which came unwillingly at first. She spoke sharply, and then struck him. He growled, but came on. Then she spoke softly to him, and made that peculiar purr, soft and rich. Now he responded, walked round her, coming closer, till his body made a half-circle about her, and his head was at her knees. She dropped her hand on it. Great applause rang through the building. This play had been quite accidental. But there lay one secret of the girl's success. She was original; she depended greatly on the power of the moment for her best effects, and they came at unexpected times.

It was at this instant that, glancing round the theatre in acknowledgment of the applause, her eyes rested mechanically on Gaston's box. There was generally some one important in that box: from a foreign prince to a young gentleman whose proudest moment was to take off his hat in the Bois to the queen of a lawless court. She had tired of being introduced to princes. What could it mean to her? And for the young bloods, whose greatest regret was that they could not send forth a daughter of joy into the Champs Elysee in her carriage, she had ever sent them about their business. She had no corner of pardon for them. She kissed her lions, she hugged the lion's cub that rode back and forth with her to the menagerie day by day--her companion in her modest apartments; but sell one of these kisses to a young gentleman of Paris, whose ambition was to master all the vices, and then let the vices master him!--she had not come to that, though, as she said in some bitter moments, she had come far.

Count Ploare--there was nothing in that. A blase man of the world, who had found it all not worth the bothering about, neither code nor people-- he saw in this rich impetuous nature a new range of emotions, a brief return to the time when he tasted an open strong life in Algiers, in Tahiti. And he would laugh at the world by marrying her--yes, actually marrying her, the dompteuse! Accident had let him render her a service, not unimportant, once at Versailles, and he had been so courteous and considerate afterwards, that she had let him see her occasionally, but never yet alone. He soon saw that an amour was impossible. At last he spoke of marriage. She shook her head. She ought to have been grateful, but she was not. Why should she be? She did not know why he wished to marry her; but, whatever the reason, he was selfish. Well, she would be selfish. She did not care for him. If she married him, it would be because she was selfish: because of position, ease; for protection in this shameless Paris; and for a home, she who had been a wanderer since her birth.

It was mere bargaining. But at last her free, independent nature revolted. No: she had had enough of the chain, and the loveless hand of man, for three months that were burned into her brain--no more! If ever she loved--all; but not the right for Count Ploare to demand the affection she gave her lions freely.

The manager of the menagerie had tried for her affections, had offered a price for her friendship; and failing, had become as good a friend as such a man could be. She even visited his wife occasionally, and gave gifts to his children; and the mother trusted her and told her her trials. And so the thing went on, and the people talked.

As we said, she turned her eyes to Gaston's box. Instantly they became riveted, and then a deep flush swept slowly up her face and burned into her splendid hair. Meyerbeer was watching through his opera-glasses. He gave an exclamation of delight:

"By the holy smoke, here's something!" he said aloud.

For an instant Gaston and the girl looked at each other intently. He made a slight sign of recognition with his hand, and then she turned away, gone a little pale now. She stood looking at her lions, as if trying to recollect herself. The lion at her feet helped her. He had a change of temper, and, possibly fretting under inaction, growled. At once she summoned him to get into the chariot. He hesitated, but did so. She put the reins in his paws and took her place behind. Then a robe of purple and ermine was thrown over her shoulders by an attendant; she gave a sharp command, and the lions came round the ring, to wild applause. Even a Parisian audience had never seen anything like this. It was amusing too; for the coachman-lion was evidently disgusted with his task, and growled in a helpless kind of way.

As they passed Gaston's box, they were very near. The girl threw one swift glance; but her face was well controlled now. She heard, however, a whispered word come to her:

"Andree!"

A few moments afterwards she retired, and the performance was in other and less remarkable hands. Presently the manager himself came, and said that Mademoiselle Victorine would be glad to see Monsieur Belward if he so wished. Gaston left Jacques, and went.

Meyerbeer noticed the move, and determined to see the meeting if possible. There was something in it, he was sure. He would invent an excuse, and make his way behind.

Gaston and the manager were in the latter's rooms waiting for Victorine. Presently a messenger came, saying that Monsieur Belward would find Mademoiselle in her dressing-room. Thither Gaston went, accompanied by the manager, who, however, left him at the door, nodding good-naturedly to Victorine, and inwardly praying that here was no danger to his business, for Victorine was a source of great profit. Yet he had failed himself, and all others had failed in winning her--why should this man succeed, if that was his purpose?

There was present an elderly, dark-featured Frenchwoman, who was always with Victorine, vigilant, protective, loving her as her own daughter.

"Monsieur!" said Andree, a warm colour in her cheek. Gaston shook her hand cordially, and laughed. "Mademoiselle--Andree?"

He looked inquiringly. "Yes, to you," she said.

"You have it all your own way now--isn't it so?" "With the lions, yes. Please sit down. This is my dear keeper," she said, touching the woman's shoulder. Then, to the woman: "Annette, you have heard me speak of this gentleman?"

The woman nodded, and modestly touched Gaston's outstretched hand.

"Monsieur was kind once to my dear Mademoiselle," she said.

Gaston cheerily smiled:

"Nothing, nothing, upon my word!" Presently he continued:

"Your father, what of him?" She sighed and shivered a little.

"He died in Auvergne three months after you saw him."

"And you?" He waved a hand towards the menagerie.

"It is a long story," she answered, not meeting his eyes. "I hated the Romany life. I became an artist's model; sickened of that,"--her voice went quickly here, "joined a travelling menagerie, and became what I am. That in brief."

"You have done well," he said admiringly, his face glowing.

"I am a successful dompteuse," she replied.

She then asked him who was his companion in the box. He told her. She insisted on sending for Jacques. Meanwhile they talked of her profession, of the animals. She grew eloquent. Jacques arrived, and suddenly remembered Andree--stammered, was put at his ease, and dropped into talk with Annette. Gaston fell into reminiscences of wild game, and talked intelligently, acutely of her work. He must wait, she said, until the performance closed, and then she would show him the animals as a happy family. Thus a half-hour went by.

Meanwhile, Meyerbeer had asked the manager to take him to Mademoiselle; but was told that Victorine never gave information to journalists, and would not be interviewed. Besides, she had a visitor. Yes, Meyerbeer knew it--Mr. Gaston Belward; but that did not matter. The manager thought it did matter. Then, with an idea of the future, Meyerbeer asked to be shown the menagerie thoroughly--he would write it up for England and America.

And so it happened that there were two sets of people inspecting the menagerie after the performance. Andree let a dozen of the animals out-- lions, leopards, a tiger, and a bear,--and they gambolled round her playfully, sometimes quarrelling with each other, but brought up smartly by her voice and a little whip, which she always carried--the only sign of professional life about her, though there was ever a dagger hid in her dress. For the rest, she looked a splendid gipsy.

Gaston suddenly asked if he might visit her. At the moment she was playing with the young tiger. She paused, was silent, preoccupied. The tiger, feeling neglected, caught her hand with its paw, tearing the skin. Gaston whipped out his handkerchief, and stanched the blood. She wrapped the handkerchief quickly round her hand, and then, recovering herself, ordered the animals back into their cages. They trotted away, and the attendant locked them up. Meanwhile Jacques had picked up and handed to Gaston a letter, dropped when he drew out his handkerchief. It was one received two days before from Delia Gasgoyne. He had a pang of confusion, and hastily put it into his pocket.

Up to this time there had been no confusion in his mind. He was going back to do his duty; to marry the girl, union with whom would be an honour; to take his place in his kingdom. He had had no minute's doubt of that. It was necessary, and it should be done. The girl? Did he not admire her, honour her, care for her? Why, then, this confusion?

Andree said to him that he might come the next morning for breakfast. She said it just as the manager and Meyerbeer passed her. Meyerbeer heard it, and saw the look in the faces of both: in hers, bewildered, warm, penetrating; in Gaston's, eager, glowing, bold, with a distant kind of trouble.

Here was a thickening plot for Paul Pry. He hugged himself. But who was Zoug-Zoug? If he could but get at that! He asked the manager, who said he did not know. He asked a dozen men that evening, but none knew. He would ask Ian Belward. What a fool not to have thought of him at first. He knew all the gossip of Paris, and was always communicative--but was he, after all? He remembered now that the painter had a way of talking at discretion: he had never got any really good material from him. But he would try him in this.

So, as Gaston and Jacques travelled down the Boulevard Montparnasse, Meyerbeer was not far behind. The journalist found Ian Belward at home, in a cynical indolent mood.

"Wherefore Meyerbeer?!" he said, as he motioned the other to a chair, and pushed over vermouth and cigarettes.

"To ask a question."

"One question? Come, that's penance. Aren't you lying as usual?"

"No; one only. I've got the rest of it."

"Got the rest of it, eh? Nasty mess you've got, whatever it is, I'll be bound. What a nice mob you press fellows are--wholesale scavengers!"

"That's all right. This vermouth is good enough. Well, will you answer my question?"

"Possibly, if it's not personal. But Lord knows where your insolence may run! You may ask if I'll introduce you to a decent London club!"

Meyerbeer flushed at last.

"You're rubbing it in," he said angrily.

He did wish to be introduced to a good London club. "The question isn't personal, I guess. It's this: Who's Zoug-Zoug?"

Smoke had come trailing out of Belward's nose, his head thrown back, his eyes on the ceiling. It stopped, and came out of his mouth on one long, straight whiff. Then the painter brought his head to a natural position slowly, and looking with a furtive nonchalance at Meyerbeer, said:

"Who is what?"

"Who's Zoug-Zoug?"

"That is your one solitary question, is it?"

"That's it."

"Very well. Now, I'll be scavenger. What is the story? Who is the woman--for you've got a woman in it, that's certain?"

"Will you tell me, then, whether you know Zoug-Zoug?"

"Yes."

"The woman is Mademoiselle Victorine, the dompteuse."

"Ah, I've not seen her yet. She burst upon Paris while I was away. Now, straight: no lies: who are the others?"

Meyerbeer hesitated; for, of course, he did not wish to speak of Gaston at this stage in the game. But he said:

"Count Ploare--and Zoug-Zoug."

"Why don't you tell me the truth?"

"I do. Now, who is Zoug-Zoug?"

"Find out."

"You said you'd tell me."

"No. I said I'd tell you if I knew Zoug-Zoug. I do."

"That's all you'll tell me?"

"That's all. And see, scavenger, take my advice and let Zoug-Zoug alone. He's a man of influence; and he's possessed of a devil. He'll make you sorry, if you meddle with him!"

He rose, and Meyerbeer did the same, saying: "You'd better tell me."

"Now, don't bother me. Drink your vermouth, take that bundle of cigarettes, and hunt Zoug-Zoug else where. If you find him, let me know. Good-bye."

Meyerbeer went out furious. The treatment had been too heroic.

"I'll give a sweet savour to your family name," he said with an oath, as he shook his fist at the closed door. Ian Belward sat back and looked at the ceiling reflectively.

"H'm!" he said at last. "What the devil does this mean? Not Andree, surely not Andree! Yet I wasn't called Zoug-Zoug before that. It was Bagshot's insolent inspiration at Auvergne. Well, well!"

He got up, drew over a portfolio of sketches, took out two or three, put them in a row against a divan, sat down, and looked at them half quizzically.

"It was rough on you, Andree; but you were hard to please, and I am constant to but one. Yet, begad, you had solid virtues; and I wish, for your sake, I had been a different kind of fellow. Well, well, we'll meet again some time, and then we'll be good friends, no doubt."

He turned away from the sketches and picked up some illustrated newspapers. In one was a portrait. He looked at it, then at the sketches again and again.

"There's a resemblance," he said. "But no, it's not possible. Andree- Mademoiselle Victorine! That would be amusing. I'd go to-morrow and see, if I weren't off to Fontainebleau. But there's no hurry: when I come back will do."