The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
April 13, 2024, 02:04:58 am
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

25: Paris Again

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: 25: Paris Again  (Read 41 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 4165

View Profile
« on: March 19, 2023, 07:23:28 am »

"Le courage commence l'œuvre et . . . "

The same afternoon John Turner and I quitted Hopton. I with a heavy enough heart, which, d'ailleurs, I always carried when leaving Lucille. There was, however, work to be done, and a need for instant action is one of the surest antidotes to sad thought. I was engaged, moreover, in affairs intimately concerning Lucille. A man, it appears, whose heart is taken from him, is best employed in doing something for the woman who has it. No other occupation will fully satisfy him.

We journeyed to London, and there took the night train to Paris, crossing the Channel in a boat crowded with Frenchmen, who had contented themselves with deploring their country's evil day from across seas. As we drove through the streets of Paris in the early morning, John Turner sat looking out of the window of a cab. Never, surely, has a city been so wasted and destroyed.

"The d---d fools; the d---d fools!" my companion muttered under his breath. And I believe the charred walls of each ruined landmark burnt into his soul.

I left John Turner in his rooms in the Avenue d'Antan, where everything seemed to be in order, and drove across to the Quartier St. Germain. It was my intention to dwell in the Hôtel Clericy until that house could be made habitable for the ladies. The concierge, I found, had been killed in one of the sorties, and his wife had, with the quick foresight of her countrywomen, secured the safety of the house by letting a certain portion of it in apartments to the officers of the National Guard as soon as the Commune was declared.

These gentlemen (one arrogant captain, I was informed, sold cat's meat in times of peace) had lived with a fine military freedom, and left marks of their boots on all the satin chairs. They had made a practice of throwing cigar ends and matches on the carpets, had stabbed a few pictures and bespattered the walls with wine, but a keen regard for their own comfort had prevented further wanton damage, and all could be repaired within a few days.

The woman made me some coffee, and while I was drinking it brought me a telegram.

"Sander wires that he has run Miste to earth in Nice. Wait for me. I follow by day mail."

The message was from Alphonse Giraud.

I laboured all day in Madame's interests, and re-engaged some of the servants who had been scattered by the war and Commune, and a fear, perhaps, of acknowledging any sympathy for the nobility.

In the evening I met Alphonse Giraud on his arrival at the Gare du Nord, and found him in fine feather, carrying a stick of British oak, which he had bought, he told me, for Miste's back.

"It will not be a matter of hitting each other with walking sticks," I answered.

We drove across to the Lyons station, and took the night mail to Marseilles. It was my second night out of bed. But I was hardy in those days, and can still thank God that I am stronger than many of my contemporaries.

"Confound you!" cried Alphonse to me the next morning as the train raced down the valley of the Loire. "You have slept all night!"

"Of course."

"And I not a wink---when each moment brings us nearer to Miste. You are no sportsman after all, Dick."

"He is the best sportsman who has the coolest head," replied I, sleepily.

We arrived at Nice in the afternoon. The very pavement smelt of heat. At the station a man came up to me, and, raising his hat, spoke my name. He handed me a letter, which I read then and there.

"The bearer is watching Miste in Nice. I am going to stop the passages by Ventimiglia and the Col di Tende. Miste has evidently appointed to meet his confederate at Genoa. Two passages have been taken on the steamer sailing Saturday thence to Buenos Ayres."

The letter was unsigned, but the handwriting that of my astute agent, Sander. Things were beginning to look black for Monsieur Miste. I saw plainly enough that Sander was thinking only of the money, and meant to catch both the thieves. The bearer of the letter, who was a Frenchman, said that he had his eye on Miste, who was staying in the old inn of the Chapeau Rouge at the top of the Quai Massena, and passed for a commercial traveller there.

"Monsieur must not molest my charge," he said. "Mr. Sander has so ordered. It is probable that Miste has in his possession only a portion of the money."

We went to the Hôtel des Anglais, and there wrote fictitious names in the police register; for it was impossible to be too careful. Alphonse, in his zeal, would have written himself down an Englishman had I not remonstrated, and told him that the ordinary housefly could have in its mind no doubt as to his nationality. So he borrowed the name of a friend who had gone to Pondicherry. Our orders were to keep within the hotel garden, and thus in masterly inactivity we passed the afternoon and evening. The heat was intense, and the gay town deserted. Indeed, one half of the shops were closed.

I went to bed early, and was already asleep when a great rapping aroused me. It was Sander's colleague, who came into my room, and dismissed the waiter who had brought him thither. Alphonse, aroused by the clamour, appeared on the scene, making use of a door of communication connecting our rooms.

"Quick, Messieurs!" the man said. "Into your clothes. I will tell you my news as you dress. My man," he went on, acting valet as he spoke, "has left by the night diligence for St. Martin Lantosque. But, tell me, are these gentlemen good for forty miles on horseback to-night?"

"Are we men?" retorted Alphonse, in response, as he wrestled with his shirt collar, "or are we schoolgirls? Tell me that, Mr. the Policeman!"

"You can only hope to do it on horseback," continued the man. "It is sixty kilometres, and for thirty of them you mount. No carriage ascends at the trot. The diligence is the quickest on the road. It proceeds at the trot where the hired carriages go at a snail's pace. You hire horses---they are your own. You beat them---hein!"

And he made a gesture descriptive of a successful and timely arrival.

"It is my custom," he went on, confidentially, "to make sure that my patients are comfortably in bed at night. I go this evening to the Chapeau Rouge---Monsieur knows the house---facing the river; wine excellent---drainage leaves to be desired. Well, I find our friend is absent---has taken his luggage. He has vanished---Pfui! I know he is safe at eight o'clock---at ten he is gone. There are no trains. This man wants to get to Italy, I know. There is no boat. One way remains. To take the diligence to St. Martin Lantosque, five miles from the frontier, at the head of the valley of the Vesubie---to walk over the pass; it is but a footpath, and now buried under the snow---to reach the wildest part of northern Italy, and, if the good God so will it, arrive at Entraque. Thence by way of Cuneo and Savona one takes the train to Genoa. I inquire at the diligence office. It is as I suspected. Miste is in the diligence. He is now"---the man paused to consult his watch---"between La Tourette and Levens. It is 11:30. The diligence was twenty minutes late in starting. Our friend has two hours and ten minutes start of these gentlemen."

By way of reply we made greater haste, and, in truth, were aided therein by our new ally, who, if he possessed a busy tongue, had fingers as active.

"The horses," he continued, "await us in the Rue Paradis, just behind here---a quiet street---good horses of two comrades of mine in the mounted gendarmerie who are away on furlough. If necessary, you can leave them at the Hôtel des Alpes, at St. Martin, and write me word. If the horses come to harm, I know these gentlemen will not let my comrades suffer."

Here Alphonse, who had borrowed the money from me earlier in the day, produced two notes of five hundred francs, and pressed them unavailingly on the agent.

As we walked rapidly towards the Rue Paradis, our masterful friend gave us particulars of the road.

"It is," he said, "the route de Levens. Monsieur knows it---well, no matter! They say it was built hundreds of years before the Romans came. One ascends this bank of the river until the road divides, then to the left through the village of St. André. After two kilometres one finds one's self in a gorge---the cliffs on either side of many hundred feet. There are places where the sunlight never enters. It is an ascent always---follows La Tourette, a fortified village high above the road on the right. Then the road becomes dangerous. There are places between Levens and St. Jean de la Rivière where to make a false step is to fall a thousand feet. One hears the Vesubie roaring far below, but the river is invisible---it is dark even at midday. The great cliffs are unbroken by a tree or a pathway. This is the Col du Dragon, a great height. In descending one passes through a long tunnel cut in the rock, and that is half-way. At St. Jean de la Rivière you will find yourselves in the valley of the Vesubie. Here, again, one mounts continually by the side of the river. The road is a dangerous one, for there are landslips and chutes of stone---at times the whole roadway is swept down into the river."

The man, with the quick gestures of his people, described all so graphically that I could see the road and its environments as he traversed it in imagination.

"Before long, however, one sees Venanson," he went on, "a church and village on a point of rock far above the river. At a turn of the road Venanson is left behind; and in front, three thousand feet above the sea, surrounded by snow mountains, lies St. Martin Lantosque. The air is cold, the people are different from the Niçois---it is another world. These gentlemen have a wonderful ride before them, and there is a moon. If I were a younger man---but there! I am married, and have two children. Also I am afraid of my wife. Mon Dieu! I make no concealment of it. My comrades know that I fear nothing that comes in the way of our business; but I tremble before my wife---a little woman as high as my elbow. What will you? A tongue!---Pstt!"

And with his forefinger he described in the air the descent of a fork of lightning.

"These are the horses, gentlemen."

And indeed he had done us well.

"Your comrades," I said, "must be fine fellows," as I climbed up the side of a horse as tall as one of my own hunters at home.

We were soon on the road, which was plain enough, and Alphonse had crammed a handful of the hotel matches into his pocket in case we should have to climb the sign posts.

My companion, it may be imagined, was in high good humour, and sat on the top of his great charger in a state of ebullient excitement worthy of a schoolboy on his first mount.

"Ah!" he cried, as we clattered along the dusty road before the great mad-house, "this is sport, my friend. Surely, fox-hunting cannot beat this?"

"'Tis rather like riding to covert, but we cannot tell what sport this fox will give us."

The police horses were heavy footed, and wore part of their professional accoutrement, so we made a military clatter which obviously pleased the brave soul of my companion.

We had to make all speed, and yet spare no care, for should we make a false turn there would be no stopping Monsieur Miste on this side of the frontier. There were, fortunately, many carts on the road with teams of four or five horses, carrying vast loads of produce from the outlying villages to Nice. Of the drivers of these we made careful inquiries, though we often had to wake them for the purpose, as they lay asleep on the top of the load of hay or straw. One of these men thanked us for arousing him, and would have detained us to relate a tale of some carter who, at a spot called the "Saut du Français," had been thrown thus, as he slept, from the summit of his hay cart, and was broken to pieces on the rock two thousand feet below.

As we topped the Col du Dragon the day broke, and lighted up the white peaks in front of us with a pink glow. The vast snow-capped range of the Alpes Maritimes was stretched out before us like a panorama---behind us the Mediterranean lay in a blue and perfect peace. The air was cool and clear as spring water.

Alphonse Giraud pulled off his hat as he looked around him.

"Blessed Name," he cried, "what a world the good God made when He was busy with it."

Our horses threw up their heads, and answered to the voice with a willingness that made us wish we had a shorter journey before us.

At St. Jean de la Rivière we rested them for fifteen minutes. The villagers were already astir, and we learnt that we had as yet gained only half an hour on the diligence.

There was no doubt about the road now, for we were enclosed in a narrow valley, with only the great thoroughfare built above the river, and that not too securely. We made good speed, and soon sighted Venanson, a queer village perched above all vegetation on the spur of a mountain.

At a turn of the road we seemed suddenly to quit France, and wheel into Switzerland. The air was Alpine, and the vegetation that of the higher valleys there. It was near seven o'clock when we approached St. Martin Lantosque, a quaint brown village of wood, clustering around a domed church.

We soon found the Hôtel des Alpes, which was but a sorry inn of no great cleanliness. The proprietor, a white-faced man, watched us descend without enthusiasm.

"What time did the diligence come in?" I asked him.

"These gentlemen have ridden," he said pleasantly.

He was joined at this moment by a person who seemed to be a waiter, though he was clad more like a stable help.

I repeated my question at a shout, and the attendant, placing his lips against the innkeeper's ear, issued another edition of it in a voice that awakened an echo far across the vale, and startled the tired horses.

"The patron is deaf," explained the servant.

"You don't say so," I answered.

We gave these people up as hopeless, and Alphonse had the brilliant idea of applying at the post-office across the way. Here we found an intelligent man. Miste had arrived by the diligence. He had sent a telegram to Genoa. He had posted a letter; and, after a hurried breakfast at the hotel, he had set off half an hour ago by the bridle path to the Col di Finestra, alone and on foot.

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy