« PreviousContinue »
to take poetical inspiration from rural scenes or vegetables, or from anything, in fact, which had not been touched to a different beauty by artifice.
One afternoon, seated thus placidly in the little café, listening to the bells softly tinkling as the cows and the goats came home, I was aroused by a most unexpected occurrence. A young lady of the foreigntourist type-quite the last kind of person I should have expected to see thererushed into the room, and stood panting and terrified in the middle of the floor.
"Vawche!" she shouted. "Ally-vonsong." She glared at me imperiously. "Comprenny-voo?"
"Perfectly," I replied as I rose. "What is it you want done?"
"Oh, you speak English?" Considerable relief was in her face. "I'm really glad. I speak English myself."
Her accent, however, was decidedly American.
"Those cows," she went on hurriedly, "are coming up the street. They're quite wild. They 're as dangerous as they can be. Can't you send for the police?"
I assured her that the cows were quiet. Even as I spoke, the cow that was accustomed to say how d' ye do to me put her head in at the door. Immediately the girl shrieked.
"Quiet! It's a mad bull!"
I shooed at the cow, which regarded me with pained astonishment at this exhibition of bad manners. Thereupon the little cow-driver came along and hit her a resounding thwack on her flank with the long stick. For an instant the cow gazed at me in deep reproach, and then moved slowly on, with less faith in humankind. than ever.
"It 's an outrage," said the young lady. "The law would not allow it anywhere else but in France. Why, in America if a cow did that—”
Words failed her. She was now recovering her poise, and felt it was time to give an eye to her dignity.
"I am not afraid of quiet cows," she said deliberately; "but all French cows are mad, like most of the people."
Then she asked me the shortest way to the Hotel Sarciron.
"I am going there myself," I said, gathering up the leaves of a story I was trying to write about a worn sinner who lived in a tower beside a graveyard.
Before we had gone far, a voice called "Olivia!" and we saw a white-haired and extremely dry-looking lady standing in the door of a hardware shop across the street beside the amiable proprietor, who smiled widely and made reassuring signs to us.
"Why, Olivia Mist," repeated the lady, querulously, "wherever did you get to? I've been just frightened to death."
"That 's my aunt," said Olivia. "When we saw the cows coming we ran in different directions. I'm glad she 's safe."
At dinner that evening the head-waiter, imagining that with only ourselves in the hotel three compatriots would like to be friendly, had placed my table near that of Miss Mist and her aunt. We met, however, as perfect strangers. I do not know whether Olivia desired to talk to me or not; but I at least had no idea of allowing my reveries about the haggard sinner in the tower to be disturbed by the gabble of females. Except for some objection that Olivia made to the head-waiter about one of the dishes, -a rather lengthy objection which at one point seemed like brightening into a row, -the meal proceeded in silence. They left the diningroom first, and I could hear Olivia's voice at the other side of the hotel shouting at her deaf aunt. The word "cow" came to me very clearly.
Later I was obliged to go into the reading-room. It was the inevitable readingroom of a French hotel, one of those rooms which seem to be never aired, with an atmosphere as special as a church, and furnished with fragile plush-and-gilt chairs and a huge table covered with a great number of newspapers devoid of interest. There I found them both again, looking, as it seemed to me, a little forlorn. The aunt was sewing; Olivia was reading a copy of a Paris New York paper several days old. Two Tauchnitz
volumes were on the table beside her. I felt that in common decency I must speak. I asked her if she felt any ill effects from her panic that afternoon.
Americans are popularly supposed to be sociable and easy of access. In this respect they are sometimes compared favorably with the English. My experience, however, leads me to doubt whether this characteristic is uppermost when they fall in with their own countrypeople in foreign parts. They seem to be afraid that one does not know their precise importance, or that one does. Here we were, the only foreigners in a small town, thrown together in the same hotel, yet we chose to address each other with extreme stiffness and even with an undertone of hostility. Not the aunt, poor dear,-her infirmity prevented anything like social intercourse, --but if the head-waiter, who spoke very fair English, happened to overhear Miss Mist and me, he must have come to the conclusion that there was some hidden cause of rancor between us.
They had come to Mont Dore so that her aunt could take the waters. Why they had come so late in the season she did not explain. I believe that the place she first encountered me had something to do with the frigidity of her address. She was by no means sure that I was a fit person to unbend to. Before long she inquired shamelessly what my business was. I replied with some consequence that I was an author. In those days a few rags of hierarchy still fluttered about this profession.
"And are you on a holiday?" pursued
"Holiday? Nothing of the kind." "Oh," she said detachedly, "I thought, seeing where you were this afternoon – I guess you don't do much work here."
"On the contrary," I replied with some heat. Although I thoroughly despised her, I thought it worth while to explain my theory of places to work in. She listened with a most irritating smile of pity and
"I guess it is only bums and loafers," she said at last, "who hang about saloons.
It's pretty much the same in all countries, believe me. You won't find great writers -the really important, I mean-in such places." She took up one of the Tauchnitz volumes. "You wouldn't be likely to find William Black or Mrs. Henry Wood or E. P. Roe in a saloon."
Although I wanted to get away, I would at that time have started a dispute with St. Paul himself if he had put forward these names as masters of literature.
"I dare say," I said with utter disdain; "but how can anything be inferred from what such people do? They are not artists."
She stared at me.
"No, of course not. I guess you don't know much. They are authors." "Yes," I replied dryly; "that is just where it is."
"However did you get it into your head," she continued, "that Mrs. Henry Wood and William Black were painters? Do you know any of the great authors? Do you know Conan Doyle or Mrs. Humphry Ward or Marie Corelli?"
I answered briefly that I did not. Inside me I felt rather ashamed that I had to deny all acquaintance with these lights of English literature. By way of getting the balance a little more even, I informed her rather pompously that I had seen Max Beerbohm in the High at Oxford.
"Who is he?" asked Olivia. "I've never heard of him.”
I mentioned Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson. I also mentioned the “Yellow Book." At this last a
gleam of intelligence came into her face.
"Oh, yes, that 's the thing all the papers in England and New York laugh at. I've seen that name; I 've seen jokes about it. It must be a pretty mean little affair. I don't think," she added with a tight smile, "that any of the great authors would write for that, would they?"
I could not honestly say that they would, for this was in the good period of the "Yellow Book" - the Beardsley period. Instead, I observed that there might be different opinions about the great authors.
"Well," she drawled, "you don't seem to know them, anyway. Come on, Aunty; it's bedtime."
we entered the dining-room, my friend stopped to talk to an acquaintance at a table where there was a large luncheon party. I have an excellent memory for faces, and I found myself looking with some attention at another of the guests. Where had I seen that face before? Then the little gray town of Mont Dore, basined in the harsh Auvergne Mountains, with the large empty hotel at the end of the season, suddenly came back to me. It was surely it must be Olivia Mist! But how changed! So changed that there was every excuse for my failure at first to recognize her. Instead of a very dowdy. girl whose good looks were killed by ugly clothes made in some small American town, and by particularly repellent provincial manners, she might now really and truly be called the pink of fashion in all the force of that phrase. She was dressed very well indeed, and looked extremely pretty, even handsome. She was evidently very much at her ease, and appeared as if she was enjoying life. I believe she knew me from the first; she glanced at me
"And reading E. P. Roe," I put in morosely.
She colored, and looked at me with a little surprise, a little uncertainty, too, I thought.
"Now, who do you call a great living quickly once or twice. Finally she decided novelist, I wonder."
to recognize me.
Her tone was mocking and condescending, intended to convey that no wisdom could possibly come from such a silly young ass as I; but underneath it I perceived a real curiosity.
"How do you do?" she said. “Did n't I see you at Mont Dore when my aunt was taking the waters there?"
I replied that she did, and added that we had had some conversations upon literary topics.
"Well," I said slowly, "there "there are George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, Henry James-"
"Here is a man," said Olivia, blandly, turning to her neighbor, a very wellknown actress, "who had never heard of George Meredith till I told him."
"Wait a minute." She took a silver pencil from her belt and wrote these names down inside the cover of her Tauchnitz volume. "I look at their books some may time," she said, "just to see what your opinion is worth."
A few days later I missed them at lunch, and was told they had gone to Paris.
At this point my friend moved on to our own table, and I bowed to Olivia without another word. I could hardly have spoken: I was too flabbergasted. My friend mentioned to me the names of some of those in Olivia's party. They were rather a celebrated lot, the kind of people whose names are wont to be seen in the newspapers.
Afterward in the smoking-room, as I was standing alone while my friend was writing a note, Olivia, from the far side. of the room, where she was sitting with another lady and a man, beckoned to me,
After that I avoided her for a few days. I persuaded the head-waiter to put my table at the other end of the room; and across the wide space Miss Mist and I self-consciously ignored each other. Then one afternoon I met her face to face in the hotel entrance as she was coming out and I was going in.
"Well," she said, "have you been at the saloon again?"
Although she neither liked nor approved of me, it was evident from this that she had given me some thought. I answered gruffly that I had.
"In America," she said, "there are millions of young men who never put their foot in a saloon and are leading perfectly pure lives-"
IT must have been quite two years afterward that I was taken, on one of those June days when London is the most beautiful city in the world, to lunch at a ladies' club somewhere in the neighborhood of Berkeley Square, I think. When