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The Mountebank by William J. Locke

Part 6 out of 6

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previous complicated frame of mind. For aught I could have guessed, not a
cloud had ever dimmed the Diana serenity of her soul. If I said that
she laid herself out to be the most charming of companions, I should be
accusing her of self-consciousness. Rather, let me declare her to have been
so instinctively. Vanity apart, I stood for something tangible in her
life. She could not remember the time when I had not been her firm friend.
Between my first offering of chocolates and my last over a quarter of a
century had lapsed. As far as a young woman can know a middle-aged man, she
knew me outside in. If she came to me for my sympathy, she knew that she
had the right. If she twitted me on my foibles, she knew that I granted her
the privilege, with affectionate indulgence.

Now, perhaps you may wonder why I, not yet decrepit, did not glide ever so
imperceptibly in love with Lady Auriol, who was no longer a dew-besprinkled
bud of a girl and therefore beyond the pale of my sentimental inclinations.
Well, just as she had avowed that she could not fall in love with a man of
my type, so was it impossible for me to fall in love with a woman of hers.
Perhaps some dark-eyed devil may yet lure me to destruction, or some mild,
fair-haired, comfortable widow may entice me to domesticity. But the joy
and delight of my attitude towards Auriol was its placid and benignant
avuncularity. We were the best and frankest friends in the world.

And the day was an August hazy dream of a day. We wound along the mountain
roads, first under overhanging greenery and then, almost suddenly, remote,
in blue ether. We hung on precipices overlooking the rock-filled valleys of
old volcanic desolation. Basaltic cliffs rose up from their bed of yellow
cornfields, bare and stark, yet, in the noontide shimmer, hesitating in
their eternal defiance of God and man. We ascended to vast tablelands of
infinite scrub and yellow broom, and the stern peaks of the Puy de Dome
mountains, a while ago seen like giants, appeared like rolling hillocks;
but here and there a little white streak showed that the snow still
lingered and would linger on until the frosts of autumn bound it in chains
to await the universal winding-sheet of winter. Climate varied with the
varying altitude of the route. Here, on a last patch of mountain ground,
were a man or two and a woman or two and odd children, reaping and binding;
there, after a few minutes' ascent, on another sloping patch, a solitary
peasant ploughed with his team of oxen. Everywhere on the declivitous
waysides, tow-haired, blue-eyed children guarded herds of goats, as their
forbears had done in the days of Vercingetorix, the Gaul. Nowhere, save in
the dimly seen remotenesses of the valleys, where vestiges of red-roofed
villages emerged through the fertile summer green, was there sign of
habitation. Whence came they, these patient humans, wresting their life
from these lonely spots of volcanic wildernesses?

Now and then, on a lower hump of mountain, appeared the ruined tower of
a stronghold fierce and dominating long ago. There the lord had all the
rights of the _seigneur_, as far as his eye could reach. He had
men-at-arms in plenty, and could ride down to the valley and could
provision himself with what corn and meat he chose, and could return and
hold high revel. But when the winter came, how cold must he have been, for
all the wood with its stifling smoke that he burned in his crude stone
hall. And Madame the Countess, his wife, and her train of highborn young
women--imagine the cracking chilblains on the hands of the whole fair

"Does the guide-book say that?" asked Auriol, on my development of this
pleasant thesis.

"Is a guide-book human?"

"It doesn't unweave rainbows. As a _cicerone_ you're impossible. I
regret Horatio Bakkus."

Still, in spite of my prosaic vision, we progressed on an enjoyable
pilgrimage. I am not giving you an itinerary. I merely mention features of
a day's whirl which memory has recaptured. We lunched in that little oasis
of expensive civilization, Mont Dore. Incidentally we visited Orcival, with
its Romanesque church and chateau, the objective of our expedition, and
found it much as Bakkus's glowing eloquence had described. From elderly
ladies at stalls under the lee of the church we bought picture post cards.
We wandered through the deeply shaded walks of the _charmille_, as
trimly kept as the maze of Hampton Court and three times the height. We did
all sorts of other things. We stopped at wild mountain gorges alive with
the rustle of water and aglow with wild-flowers. We went on foot through
one-streeted, tumble-down villages and passed the time of day with the
kindly inhabitants. And the August sun shone all the time.

We reached Royat at about six o'clock and went straight up to our rooms.
On my table some letters awaited me; but instead of finding among them
the apology from Bakkus which I had expected, I came across a telephone
memorandum asking me to ring up Monsieur Patou at the Hotel Moderne, Vichy,
as soon as I returned.

After glancing through my correspondence, I descended to the bureau and
there found Auriol in talk with the _concierge_. She broke off and
waved a telegram at me.

"The end of my lotus-eating. The arrangements are put through and I'm no
longer hung up. So"--she made a little grimace--"it's the midnight train to

"Surely to-morrow will do," I protested.

"To-morrow never does," she retorted.

"As you will," said I, knowing argument was hopeless.

Meanwhile the _concierge_ was 'allo'-ing lustily into the telephone.

"I ought to have stuck to head-quarters," she said, moving away into the
lounge. "It's the first time I've ever mixed up business and--other things.
Anyhow," she smiled, "I've had an adorable day. I'll remember it in Arras."


"Roundabout." She waved vaguely. "I'll know my exact address to-morrow."

"Please let me have it."

"What's the good unless you promise to write to me?"

"I swear," said I.

"Pardon, Miladi," called the _concierge_, receiver in hand. "The
_gare de Clermont-Ferrand_ says there is no _place salon-lit_ or
_coupe-lit_ free in the train to-night. But there is _one place de
milieu_, _premiere_, not yet taken."

"Reserve it then and tell them you're sending a _chasseur_ at once
with the money." She turned to me. "My luck's in."

"Luck!" I cried. "To get a middle seat in a crowded carriage, for an
all-night journey, with the windows shut?"

She laughed. "Why is it, my dear Tony, you always seem to pretend there has
never been anything like a war?"

She went upstairs to cleanse herself and pack. I remained master of the
telephone. In the course of time I got on to the Hotel Moderne, Vichy.
Eventually I recognized Lackaday's voice. The preliminaries of fence over,
he said:

"I wonder whether it would be trespassing too far on your friendship to ask
you to pay your promised visit to Vichy to-morrow?"

The formality of his English, which one forgot when talking to him face to
face, was oddly accentuated by the impersonal tones of the telephone.

"I'll motor over with pleasure," said I. The prospect pleased me. It was
only sixty kilometres. I was wondering what the deuce I should do with
myself all alone.

"You're sure it wouldn't be inconvenient? You have no other engagement?"

I informed him that, my early morning treatment over, I was free as air.

"Besides," said I, "I shall be at a loose end. Lady Auriol's taking the
midnight train to Paris."

"Oh!" said he.

There was a pause.

"'Allo!" said I.

His voice responded: "In that case, I'll come to Clermont-Ferrand by the
first train and see you."

"Nonsense," said I.

But he would have it his own way. Evidently the absence of Lady Auriol made
all the difference. I yielded.

"What's the trouble?" I asked.

"I'll tell you when I see you," said he. "I don't know the trains, but I'll
come by the first. Your _concierge_ will look it up for you. Thanks
very much. Good-bye."'

"But, my dear fellow----" I began.

But I spoke into nothingness. He had rung off.

Auriol and I spent a comfortable evening together. There was no question of
Lackaday. For her part, she raised none. For mine--why should I disturb her
superbly regained balance with idle chatter about our morrow's meeting?
We talked of the past glories of the day; of an almost forgotten day of
disastrous picnic in the mountains of North Wales, when her twelve-year-old
sense of humour detected the artificial politeness with which I sought to
cloak my sodden misery; of all sorts of pleasant far-off things; of the
war; of what may be called the war-continuation-work in the devastated
districts in which she was at present engaged. I reminded her of our
fortuitous meetings, when she trudged by my side through the welter of rain
and liquid mud, smoking the fag-end of my last pipe of tobacco.

"One lived in those days," she said with a full-bosomed sigh.

"By the dispensation of a merciful Providence," I said, "one hung on to a
strand of existence."

"It was fine!" she declared.

"It was--for the appropriate adjective," said I, "consult any humble member
of the British Army."

We had a whole, long evening's talk, which did not end until I left her in
the train at Clermont-Ferrand.

On our midnight way thither, she said:

"Now I know you love me, Tony."

"Why now?" I asked.

"How many people are there in the world whom you would see off by a
midnight train, three or four miles from your comfortable bed?"

"Not many," I admitted.

"That's why I want you to feel I'm grateful." She sought my hand and patted
it. "I've been a dreadful worry to you. I've been through a hard time."
This was her first and only reference during the day to the romance. "I had
to cut something out of my living self, and I couldn't help groaning a bit.
But the operation's over--and I'll never worry you again."

At the station I packed her into the dark and already suffocating
compartment. She announced her intention to sleep all night like a dog. She
went off, in the best of spirits, to the work in front of her, which after
all was a more reasonable cure than tossing about the Outer Hebrides in a
five-ton yacht.

I drove home to bed and slept the sleep of the perfect altruist.

I was reading the _Moniteur du Puy de Dome_ on the hotel terrace next
morning, when Lackaday was announced. He looked grimmer and more careworn
than ever, and did not even smile as he greeted me. He only said gravely
that it was good of me to let him come over. I offered him refreshment,
which he declined.

"You may be wondering," said he, "why I have asked for this interview. But
after all I have told you about myself, it did not seem right to leave you
in ignorance of certain things. Besides, you've so often given me your
kind sympathy, that, as a lonely man, I've ventured to trespass on it once

"My dear Lackaday, you know that I value your friendship," said I, not
wishing to be outdone in courteous phrase, "and that my services are
entirely at your disposal."

"I had better tell you in a few words what has happened," said he.

He told me.

Elodie had gone, disappeared, vanished into space, like the pearl necklaces
which Petit Patou used to throw at her across the stage.

"But how? When?" I asked, in bewilderment; for Lackaday and Elodie, as Les
Petit Patou, seemed as indissoluble as William and Mary or Pommery and

He had gone to her room at ten o'clock the previous morning, her breakfast
hour, and found it wide open and empty save for the _femme de chambre_
making great clatter of sweeping. He stood open-mouthed on the threshold.
To be abroad at such an hour was not in Elodie's habits. Their train did
not start till the afternoon. His eye quickly caught the uninhabited
bareness of the apartment. Not a garment straggled about the room. The
toilet table, usually strewn with a myriad promiscuously ill-assorted
articles, stared nakedly. There were no boxes. The cage of love-birds,
Elodie's inseparable companions, had gone.


He questioned the _femme de chambre_.

"But Madame has departed. Did not Monsieur know?"

Monsieur obviously did not know. The girl gave him the information of which
she was possessed. Madame had gone in an automobile at six o'clock. She had
rung the bell. The _femme de chambre_ had answered it. The staff were
up early on account of the seven o'clock train for Paris.

"Then Madame has gone to Paris," cried Lackaday.

But the girl demurred at the proposition. One does not hire an automobile
from a garage, _a voiture de luxe, quoi?_ to go to the railway
station, when the hotel omnibus would take one there for a franc or two. As
she was saying, Madame rang her bell and gave orders for her luggage to be
taken down. It was not much, said Lackaday; they travelled light, their
professional paraphernalia having to be considered. Well, the luggage was
taken down to the automobile that was waiting at the door, and Madame had
driven off. That is all she knew.

Lackaday strode over to the bureau and assailed the manager. Why had he not
been informed of the departure of Madame? It apparently never entered the
manager's polite head that Monsieur Patou was ignorant of Madame Patou's
movements. Monsieur had given notice that they were leaving. Artists like
Monsieur and Madame Patou were bound to make special arrangements for their
tours, particularly nowadays when railway travelling was difficult. So
Madame's departure had occasioned no surprise.

"Who took her luggage down?" he demanded.

The dingy waistcoated, alpaca-sleeved porter, wearing the ribbon of the
Medaille Militaire on his breast, came forward. At six o'clock, while he
was sweeping the hall, an automobile drew up outside. He said: "Whom are
you come to fetch? The Queen of Spain?" And the chauffeur told him to
mind his own business. At that moment the bell rang. He went up to the
_etage_ indicated. The _femme de chambre_ beckoned him to the
room and he took the luggage and Madame took the bird-cage, and he put
Madame and the luggage and the birdcage into the auto, and Madame gave him
two francs, and the car drove off, whither the porter knew not.

Although he put it to me very delicately, as he had always conveyed his
criticism of Elodie, the fact that struck a clear and astounding note
through his general bewilderment, was the unprecedented reckless
extravagance of the economical Elodie. There was the omnibus. There was the
train. Why the car at the fantastic rate of one franc fifty per kilometre,
to say nothing of the one franc fifty per kilometre for the empty car's
return journey?

"And Madame was all alone in the automobile," said the porter, by way of
reassurance. "Pardon, Monsieur," he added, fading away under Lackaday's

"I cut the indignity of it all as short as I could," said Lackaday, "and
went up to my room to size things up. It was a knock-down blow to me in
many ways, as you no doubt can understand. And then came the _femme
de chambre_ with a letter addressed to me. It had fallen between the
looking-glass and the wall."

He drew a letter from his pocket and handed it to me.

"You had better read it."

I fitted my glasses on my nose and read. In the sprawling, strong,
illiterate hand I saw and felt Elodie.

_Mon petit Andre_----

But I must translate inadequately, for the grammar and phrasing were

As you no longer love me, if ever you have loved me, which I doubt, for
we have made _un drole de menage_ ever since we joined ourselves
together, and as our life in common is giving you unhappiness, which it
does me also, for since you have returned from England as a General you
have not been the same, and indeed I have never understood how a General
[and then followed a couple of lines vehemently erased]. And as I do not
wish to be a burden to you, but desire that you should feel yourself free
to lead whatever life you like, I have taken the decision to leave you for
ever--_pour tout jamais_. It is the best means to regain happiness.

For the things that are still at the Cirque Vendramin, do with them what
you will. I shall write to Ernestine to send me my clothes and all the
little birds I love so much. Your noble heart will not grudge them to me,
_mon petit Andre_.

Praying God for your happiness, I am always

Your devoted


I handed him back the letter without a word. What could one say?

"The first thing I did," he said, putting the letter back in his pocket,
"was to ring up Bakkus, to see whether he could throw any light on the

"Bakkus--why, he cut his engagement with us yesterday."

"The damned scoundrel," said Lackaday, "was running away with Elodie."

Chapter XXIII

He banged his hand on the little iron table in front of us and started to
his feet, exploding at last with his suppressed fury.

"The infernal villain!"

I gasped for a few seconds. Then I accomplished my life's effort in
self-control. My whole being clamoured for an explosion equally violent of
compressed mirth. I ached to lie back in my chair and shriek with laughter.
The _denouement_ of the little drama was so amazingly unexpected, so
unexpectedly ludicrous. A glimmer of responsive humour in his eyes would
have sent me off. But there he stood, with his grimmest battle-field face,
denouncing his betrayer. Even a smile on my part would have been insulting.

Worked up, he told me the whole of the astonishing business, as far as he
knew it. They had eloped at dawn, like any pair of young lovers. Of
that there was no doubt. The car had picked up Bakkus at his hotel in
Royat--Lackaday had the landlord's word for it--and had carried the pair
away, Heaven knew whither. The proprietor of the Royat garage deposed that
Mr. Bakkus had hired the car for the day, mentioning no objective. The
runaways had the whole of France before them. Pursuit was hopeless. As
Lackaday had planned to go to Vichy, he went to Vichy. There seemed nothing
else to do.

"But why elope at dawn?" I cried. "Why all the fellow's unnecessary
duplicity? Why, in the name of Macchiavelli, did he seize upon my ten
o'clock invitation with such enthusiasm? Why his private conversation with
me? Why throw dust into my sleepy eyes? What did he gain by it?"

Lackaday shrugged his shoulders. That part of the matter scarcely
interested him. He was concerned mainly with the sting of the viper Bakkus,
whom he had nourished in his bosom.

"But, my dear fellow," said I at last, after a tiring march up and down the
hot terrace, "you don't seem to realize that Bakkus has solved all your
difficulties, _ambulando_, by walking off, or motoring off, with your
great responsibility."

"You mean," said he, coming to a halt, "that this has removed the reason
for my remaining on the stage?"

"It seems so," said I.

He frowned. "I wish it could have happened differently. No man can bear to
be tricked and fooled and made a mock of."

"But it does give you your freedom," said I.

He thrust his hands into his trousers pockets. "I suppose it does," he
admitted savagely. "But there's a price for everything. Even freedom can be
purchased too highly."

He strode on. I had to accompany him, perspiringly. It was a very hot day.
We talked and talked; came back to the startling event. We had to believe
it, because it was incredible, as Tertullian cheerily remarked of
ecclesiastical dogma. But short of the Archbishop of Canterbury eloping
with the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour nothing could seem less
possible. If Bakkus had nurtured nefarious designs, Good Heavens! he could
have executed them years before. Well, perhaps not. When one hasn't a penny
in one's pocket even the most cynical pauses ere he proposes romantic
flight with a lady equally penniless. But since April, Bakkus had been
battening on the good Archdeacon, his brother's substantial allowance. Why
had he tarried?

"His diabolical cunning lay in wait for a weak moment," growled Lackaday.

All through this discussion, I came up against a paradox of human nature.
Although it was obvious that the unprincipled Bakkus had rendered my good
friend the service of ridding him of the responsibility of a woman whom he
had ceased to love, if ever he had loved her at all, a woman, who, for all
her loyal devotion through loveless years, had stood implacably between him
and the realization of his dreams, yet he rampaged against his benefactor,
as though he had struck a fatal blow at the roots of his honour and his

"But after all, man, can't you see," he cried in protest at my worldly and
sophistical arguments, "that I've lost one of the most precious things in
the world? My implicit faith in a fellow-man. I gave Bakkus a brother's
trust. He has betrayed it. Where am I? His thousand faults have been
familiar to me for years. I discounted them for the good in him. I thought
I had grasped it." He clenched his delicate hand in a passionate gesture.
"But now"--he opened it--"nothing. I'm at sea. How can I know that you,
whom I have trusted more than any other man with my heart's secrets------?"

The _concierge_ with a dusty chauffeur in tow providentially cut short
this embarrassing apostrophe.

"Monsieur le Capitaine Hylton?" asked the chauffeur.

"_C'est moi_."

He handed me a letter. I glanced at the writing on the envelope.

"From Bakkus!" I said. "Tell me"--to the chauffeur--"how did you come by

"Monsieur charged me to deliver it into the hands of Monsieur le Capitaine.
I have this moment returned to Royat."

"Ah," said I. "You drove the automobile? Where is Monsieur Bakkus?"

"That," said he, "I have pledged my honour not to divulge."

I fished in my pocket for some greasy rags of paper money which I pressed
into his honourable hand. He bowed and departed. I tore open the envelope.

"You will excuse me?"

"Oh, of course," said Lackaday curtly. He lit a cigarette and stalked to
the end of the terrace.

The letter bore neither date nor address. I read:


You have heard of Touchstone. You have heard of Audrey. Shakespeare has
doubtless convinced you of the inevitability of their mating. I have always
prided myself of a certain Touchstone element in my nature. There is much
that is Audrey-esque in the lady whose disappearance from Clermont-Ferrand
may be causing perturbation. As my Shakespearian preincarnation scorned
dishonourable designs, so do even I. The marriage of Veuve Elodie Marescaux
and Horatio Bakkus will take place at the earliest opportunity allowed
by French law. If that delays too long, we shall fly to England where an
Archbishop's special licence will induce a family Archdeacon to marry us
straight away.

My flippancy, my dear Hylton, is but a motley coat.

If there is one being in this world whom I love and honour, it is Andrew
Lackaday. From the first day I met him, I, a cynical disillusioned wastrel,
he a raw yet uncompromising lad, I felt that here, somehow, was a sheet
anchor in my life. He has fed me when I have been hungry, he has lashed me
when I have been craven-hearted, he has raised me when I have fallen. There
can be only three beings in the Cosmos who know how I have been saved times
out of number from the nethermost abyss--I and Andrew Lackaday and God.

I passed my hand over my eyes when I read this remarkable outburst of
devoted affection on the part of the seducer and betrayer for the man he
had wronged. I thought of the old couplet about the dissembling of love
and the kicking downstairs. I read on, however, and found the mystery

The time has come for me to pay him, in part, my infinite debt of

You may have been surprised when I wrung your hand warmly before
parting. Your words removed every hesitating scruple. Had you said,
"there is nothing between a certain lady and Andrew Lackaday," I should
have been to some extent nonplussed. I should have doubted my judgment.
I should have pressed you further. If you had convinced me that the
whole basis of my projected action was illusory, I should have found
means to cancel the arrangements. But remember what you said. "There
can't by any possibility be anything between Lady Auriol Dayne and
Petit Patou."

"Damn the fellow," I muttered. "Now he's calmly shifting the responsibility
on to me."

And I swore a deep oath that nevermore would I interfere in anybody else's
affairs, not even if Bolshevist butchers were playing with him before my
very eyes.

There, my dear Hylton (the letter went on), you gave away the key of
the situation. My judgment had been unerring. As Petit Patou, our
friend stood beyond the pale. As General Lackaday, he stepped into all
the privileges of the Enclosure. Bound by such ties to Madame Patou as
an honourable and upright gentleman like our friend could not d
of severing, he was likewise bound to his vain and heart-breaking
existence as Petit Patou. A free man, he could cast off his mountebank
trappings and go forth into the world, once more as General Lackaday,
the social equal of the gracious lady whom he loved and whose feelings
towards him, as eyes far less careless than ours could see at a glance,
were not those of placid indifference.

The solution of the problem dawned on me like an inspiration. Why not
sacrifice my not over-valued celibacy on the altar of friendship? For
years Elodie and I have been, _en lout bien et tout honneur_, the
most intimate of comrades. I don't say that, for all the gold in the
Indies, I would not marry a woman out of my brother's Archdeaco
If she asked me, I probably should. But I should most certainly, such
being my unregenerate nature, run away with the gold and leave the
lady. For respectability to have attraction you must be bred in
You must regard the dog collar and chain as the great and God-given
blessing of your life. The old fable of the dog and the wolf. But I've
lived my life, till past fifty, as the disreputable wolf--and so,
please God, will I remain till I die. But, after all, being human, I'm
quite a kind sort of wolf. Thanks to my brother--no longer will hunger
drive the wolf abroad. You remember Villon's lines:

"Necessite fait gens mesprendre
Et faim sortir le loup des boys."

I shall live in plethoric ease my elderly vulpine life. But the elderly
wolf needs a mate for his old age, who is at one with him in his
(entirely unsinful) habits of disrepute. Where in this universe, then,
could I find a fitter mate than Elodie?

Which brings me back, although I'm aware of glaring psychological
flaws, to my Touchstone and Audrey prelude.

Writing, as I am doing, in a devil of a hurry, I don't pretend to
Meredithean analysis.

Elodie's refusal to marry Andrew Lackaday had something to do
a woman's illusions. She is going to marry me because there's no
possibility of any kind of illusion whatsoever. My good brother whom, I
grieve to say, is in the very worst of health, informs me that he has
made a will in my favour. Heaven knows, I am contented enough as I am.
But, the fact remains, which no doubt will ease our dear frie
mind, that Elodie's future is assured. In the meanwhile we will devote
ourselves to the cultivation of that peculiarly disreputable sloth
which is conducive to longevity, _releve_ (according to the
gastronomic idiom) on my part, with the study of French Heraldry which
in the present world upheaval, is the most futile pursuit conceivable
by a Diogenic philosopher.

I can't write this to Lackaday, who no doubt is saying all the dreadful
things that he learned with our armies in Flanders. He would not
understand. He would not understand the magic of romance, the secrecy,
the thrill of the dawn elopement, the romance of the _coup de
theatre_ by which alone I was able to induce Elodie to co-operate in
the part payment of my infinite debt of gratitude.

I therefore write to you, confident that, as an urbane citizen of the
world you will be able to convey to the man I love most on earth, the
real essence of this, the apologia of Elodie and myself. What more can
a man do than lay down his bachelor life for a friend?

Yours sincerely,

Horatio Bakkus

P.S.--If you had convinced me that I was staring hypnotically at a
mare's nest, I should have had much pleasure in joining you on your
excursion. I hope you went and enjoyed it and found Orcival exceeding
my poor dithyrambic.

I had to read over this preposterous epistle again before I fully grasped
its significance. On the first reading it seemed incredible that the man
could be sincere in his professions; on the second, his perfect good faith
manifested itself in every line. Had I read it a third time, I, no doubt,
should have regarded him as an heroic figure, with a halo already beginning
to shimmer about his head.

I walked up to Lackaday at the end of the terrace and handed him the
letter. It was the simplest thing to do. He also read it twice, the
first time with scowling brow, the second with a milder expression of
incredulity. He looked down on me--I don't stand when a handy chair invites
me to sit.

"This is the most amazing thing I've ever heard of."

I nodded. He walked a few yards away and attacked the letter for the third
time. Then he gave it back to me with a smile.

"I don't believe he's such an infernal scoundrel after all."

"Ah!" said I.

He leaned over the balustrade and plunged into deep reflection.

"If it's genuine, it's an unheard of piece of Quixotism."

"I'm sure it's genuine."

"By Gum!" said he. He gazed at the vine-clad hill in the silence of
wondering admiration.

At last I tapped him on the shoulder.

"Let us lunch," said I.

We strolled to the upper terrace.

"It is wonderful," he remarked on the way thither, "how much sheer goodness
there is in humanity."

"Pure selfishness on my part. I hate lunching alone," said I.

He turned on me a pained look.

"I wasn't referring to you."

Then meeting something quizzical in my eye, he grinned his broad ear-to-ear
grin of a child of six.

We lunched. We smoked and talked. At every moment a line seemed to fade
from his care-worn face. At any rate, everything was not for the worst in
the worst possible of worlds. I think he felt his sense of freedom steal
over him in his gradual glow. At last I had him laughing and mimicking, in
his inimitable way--a thing which he had not done for my benefit since the
first night of our acquaintance--the elderly and outraged Moignon whom he
proposed to visit in Paris, for the purpose of cancelling his contracts.
As for Vichy--Vichy could go hang. There were ravening multitudes of
demobilized variety artists besieging every stage-door in France. He was
letting down nobody; neither the managements nor the public. Moignon would
find means of consolation.

"My dear Hylton," said he, "now that my faith in Bakkus is not only
restored but infinitely strengthened, and my mind is at rest concerning
Elodie, I feel as though ten years were lifted from my life. I'm no longer
Petit Patou. The blessed relief of it! Perhaps," he added, after a pause,
"the discipline has been good for my soul."

"In what way?"

"Well, you see," he replied thoughtfully, "in my profession I always was a
second-rater. I was aware of it; but I was content, because I did my best.
In the Army my vanity leads me to believe I was a first-rater. Then I had
to go back, not only to second-rate, but to third-rate, having lost a lot
in five years. It was humiliating. But all the same I've no doubt it has
been the best thing in the world for me. The old hats will still fit."

"If I had a quarter of your vicious modesty," said I, "I would see that I
turned it into a dazzling virtue. What are your plans?"

"You remember my telling you of a man I met in Marseilles called

"Yes," said I, "the fellow who shies at coco-nuts in the Solomon Islands."

He grinned, and with singular aptness he replied:

"I'll cable him this afternoon and see whether I can still have three shies
for a penny."

We discussed the proposal. Presently he rose. He must go to Vichy, where he
had to wind up certain affairs of Les Petit Patou. To-morrow he would start
for Paris and await Arbuthnot's reply.

"And possibly you'll see Lady Auriol," I hazarded, this being the first
time her name was mentioned.

His brow clouded and he shook his head sadly.

"I think not," said he. And, as I was about to protest, he checked me with
a gesture. "That's all done with."

"My dear, distinguished idiot," said I.

"It can never be," he declared with an air of finality.

"You'll break Bakkus's heart."

"Sorry," said he.

"You'll break mine."

"Sorrier still. No, no, my dear friend," he said gently, "don't let us talk
about that any more."

After he had gone I experienced a severe attack of anticlimax, and feeling
lonely I wrote to Lady Auriol. In the coarse phraseology of the day,
I spread myself out over that letter. It was a piece of high-class
descriptive writing. I gave her a beautiful account of the elopement and,
as an interesting human document, I enclosed a copy of Bakkus's letter. As
I had to wait a day or two for her promised address--her letter conveying
it gave me no particular news of herself--I did not receive her answer
until I reached London.

It was characteristic:

My Dear Tony,

Thanks for your interesting letter. I've adopted a mongrel Irish
Terrier--the most fascinating skinful of sin the world has ever
produced. I'll show him to you some day.



I wrote back in a fury: something about never wanting to see her or her
infernal dog as long as I lived. I was angry and depressed. I don't know
why. It was none of my business. But I felt that I had been scandalously
treated by this young woman. I felt that I had subscribed to their futile
romance an enormous fund of interest and sympathy. This chilly end of it
left me with a sense of bleak disappointment. I was not rendered merrier a
short while afterwards by an airy letter from Horatio Bakkus enclosing a
flourishing announcement in French of his marriage with the Veuve Elodie
Marescaux, nee Figasso. "Behold me," said the fellow, "cooing with content
in the plenitude of perfect connubiality." I did not desire to behold him
at all. His cooing left me cold. I bore on my shoulders the burden of the
tragio-comedy of Auriol and Lackaday.

If she had never seen him as Petit Patou, all might have been well, in
spite of Elodie who had been somewhat destructive of romantic glamour. But
the visit to the circus, I concluded, finished the business. Beneath the
painted monster in green silk tights the dignified soldier whom she loved
was eclipsed for ever. And then a thousand commonplace social realities
arose and stood stonily in her path. And Lackaday--well! I suppose he was
faced with the same unscalable stone wall of convention.

Lackaday's letters were brief, and, such as they were, full of Arbuthnot.
He was sailing as soon as he could find a berth. I gave the pair up, and
went to an elder brother's place in Inverness-shire for rest and
shooting and rain and family criticism and such-like amenities. Among my
fellow-guests I found young Charles Verity-Stewart and Evadne nominally
under governess tutelage. The child kept me sane during a dreadful month.
Having been sick of the sound of guns going off during the war, I found,
to my dismay, scant pleasure in explosions followed by the death of little
birds. And then--I suppose I am growing old--the sport, in which I once
rejoiced, involved such hours of wet and weary walking that I renounced
it without too many sighs. But I had nothing to do. My pre-war dilettante
excursions into the literary world had long since come to an end. I was
obsessed by the story of Lackaday; and so, out of sheer _taedium vitae_,
and at the risk of a family quarrel, I shut myself up with the famous
manuscript and my own reminiscences, and began to reduce things to such
coherence as you now have had an opportunity of judging.

It was at breakfast, one morning in November, that the butler handed me a
telegram. I opened the orange envelope. The missive, reply paid, ran:

Will you swear that there are real live cannibals in the Solomon
Islands? If not, it will be the final disillusion of my life.--AURIOL

I passed the paper to my neighbour Evadne, healthily deep in porridge. She
glanced at it, glass of milk in one hand, poised spoon in the other. With
the diabolical intuition of eternal woman and the ironical imperturbability
of the modern maiden, she raised her candid eyes to mine and declared:

"She's quite mad. But I told you all about it years ago."

This lofty calmness I could not share. I suddenly found myself unable to
stand another minute of Scotland. Righteous indignation sped me to London.

I found the pair together in Lady Auriol's drawing-room. Without formal
greeting I apostrophized them.

"You two have behaved disgracefully. Here have I been utterly miserable
about you, and all the time you've left me in the dark."

"Where we were ourselves, my dear Hylton, I assure you," said Lackaday.

"I shed light as soon as I could," said Auriol. "We bumped into each other
last Monday evening in Bond Street and found it was us."

"I told her I was going to the Solomon Islands."

"And I thought I wanted to go there too."

"From which I gather," said I, "that you are going to get married."

Lady Auriol smiled and shook her head.

"Oh dear no."

I was really angry. "Then what on earth made you drag me all the way from
the North of Scotland?"

"To congratulate us, my dear friend," said Lackaday. "We were married this

"I think you're a pair of fools," said I later, not yet quite mollified.

"Why--for getting married?" asked Auriol.

"No," said I. "For putting it off to a fortuitous bump in Bond Street."

The End

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