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CHAPTER III SIMON'S OLD-FASHIONED NIGHT IN TOWN
Madame Rossignol was a charming old lady of sixty, a production of France—no other country could have produced her. She lived in Duke Street, Leicester Square, supporting herself and her daughter Cerise by translating English books into French. Cerise did millinery. Madame combined absolute innocence with absolute instinct. She knew all about things; her innocence was not ignorance, it was purity—rising above a knowledge of the world, and disdaining to look at evil.

She was dreadfully poor.

Her love for Cerise was like a disease always preying upon her. Should she die, what would happen to Cerise?

Behold these together clasped in each other's arms. Set in the shabby sitting-room, it might have been a scene at the Port St. Martin.

"Oh, mother," murmured the girl, "is he not good!"

"He is more than good," said Madame. "Most surely the bon Dieu sent him to be your guardian angel."

"Is he not charming?" went on Cerise, unlinking herself from the maternal embrace and touching her hair into order again with a little laugh. "So different from the leaden-faced English, so gay and yet so—so——"

"There is a something—I do not know what—about him," said the old lady; "something of Romance. Is it not like a little tale of Madame Perichon's or a little play of Monsieur Baree? Might he not just have come in as in one of those? You go out, lose your purse, are lost. I sit waiting for you at your non-return in this wilderness of London; you return, but not alone. With you comes the Marquis de Grandcourt, who bows and says, 'Madame, I return you your daughter; I ask in return your friendship. I am alone, like you; let us then be friends.' I reply, 'Monsieur, you behold our poverty, but you cannot behold our hearts or the gratitude in my mind.' What a little story!"

"And how he laughed, and said, 'Hang monee!'" cut in Cerise. "What means that 'hang monee!' maman? And how he pulled out all the gold pieces like a boy, saying, 'I am rich!'—just as a little boy might say, 'I am[Pg 75] rich! I am rich!' No bourgeois could have done that without offending, without giving one a shiver of the skin."

"You have said it," replied Madame. "A little boy—a great and good man, yet a little boy. He is not in his first youth, but there are people, like Pierre Pan, who never lose youth. It is so; I have seen it."

"Simon Pattigrew," murmured Cerise, with a little laugh.

A knock came to the door and a little maid-of-all-work, and down at heel, entered with a huge bouquet, one of those bouquets youth flings at prima donnas.

Simon, after leaving the Rossignols, had struck a flower shop—this was the result. A piece of paper accompanied the bouquet, and on the paper, written in a handwriting that hitherto had only appeared on letters of business and documents of law, were the words: "From your Friend."

Simon, having struck the flower shop, might have struck a fruit shop and a bonnet shop, only that the joy of love, the love that comes at first sight, the love of dreams, made him incapable of any more business—even the business of buying presents for his fascinator.

It was now five o'clock, and, pursuing his way[Pg 76] West, he found Piccadilly. He passed girls without looking at them—he saw only the vision of Cerise. She led him as far as St. George's Hospital, as though leading him away from the temptations of the West, but the gloomy prospect of Knightsbridge headed him off, and, turning, he came back. Big houses, signs of wealth and prosperity, seemed to hold him in a charm, just as he was held by all things pretty, coloured, or dazzling.

A glittering restaurant drew him in presently, and here he had a jovial dinner; all alone, it is true, but with plenty to look at.

He had also a half-bottle of champagne and a maraschino.

He had already consumed that day a cocktail coloured, two glasses of brandy-and-water cold and a half-bottle of champagne. His ordinary consumption of alcohol was moderate. A glass of green-seal sherry at twelve, and a half-bottle of St. Estéphe at lunch, and, shall we say, a small whisky-and-soda at dinner, or, if dining out or with guests, a couple of glasses of Pommery.

And to-day he had been drinking restaurant champagne "tres sec"—and two half-bottles of it! The excess was beginning to tell. It told in the slight flush on his cheeks, which, strange to[Pg 77] say, did not make him look younger; it told in the tip he gave the waiter, and in the way he put on his hat. He had bought a walking-stick during his peregrinations, a dandy stick with a tassel—the passing fashion had just come in—and with this under his arm he left the café in search of pleasures new.

The West End was now ablaze, and the theatres filling. Simon, like Poe's man of the crowd, kept with the crowd; a blaze of lights attracted him as a lamp a moth.

The Pallaceum sucked him in. Here, in a blue haze of tobacco-smoke and to the tune of a band, he sat for awhile watching the show, roaring with laughter at the comic turns, pleased with the conjuring business, and fascinated—despite Cerise—with the girl in tights who did acrobatic tricks aided by two poodles and a monkey.

Then he found the bar, and there he stood adding fuel to pleasure, his stick under his arm, his hat tilted back, a new cigar in his mouth, and a smile on his face—a smile with a suggestion of fixity. Alas! if Cerise could have seen the Marquis de Grandcourt now!—or was it Madame who raised him to the peerage of France? If she could have been by to just raise her eyebrows at him! Yet she was there, in a[Pg 78] way, for the ladies of the foyer who glanced at him not unkindly, taken perhaps by his bonhomie, and smiling demeanour and atmosphere of wealth and enjoyment, found no response. Yet he found momentary acquaintances, of a sort. A couple of University men up in town for a lark seemed to find him part of the lark; they all drank together, exchanged views, and then the University men vanished, giving place to a gentleman in a very polished hat, with diamond studs, and a face like a hawk, who suggested "fizz," a small bottle of whic............
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