Madame Jolicoeur's Cat





Being somewhat of an age, and a widow of dignity--the late Monsieur

Jolicoeur has held the responsible position under Government of

Ingenieur des Ponts et Chaussees--yet being also of a provocatively

fresh plumpness, and a Marseillaise, it was of necessity that Madame

Veuve Jolicoeur, on being left lonely in the world save for the

companionship of her adored Shah de Perse, should entertain expectations

of the future that were antipodal and antagonistic: on the one hand, of

an austere life suitable to a widow of a reasonable maturity and of an

assured position; on the other hand, of a life, not austere, suitable to

a widow still of a provocatively fresh plumpness and by birth a

Marseillaise.



Had Madame Jolicoeur possessed a severe temperament and a resolute

mind--possessions inherently improbable, in view of her birthplace--she

would have made her choice between these equally possible futures with a

promptness and with a finality that would have left nothing at loose

ends. So endowed, she would have emphasized her not excessive age by a

slightly excessive gravity of dress and of deportment; and would have

adorned it, and her dignified widowhood, by becoming devote: and

thereafter, clinging with a modest ostentation only to her piety, would

have radiated, as time made its marches, an always increasingly

exemplary grace. But as Madame Jolicoeur did not possess a

temperament that even bordered on severity, and as her mind was a sort

that made itself up in at least twenty different directions in a single

moment--as she was, in short, an entirely typical and therefore an

entirely delightful Provencale--the situation was so much too much for

her that, by the process of formulating a great variety of

irreconcilable conclusions, she left everything at loose ends by not

making any choice at all.



In effect, she simply stood attendant upon what the future had in store

for her: and meanwhile avowedly clung only, in default of piety, to her

adored Shah de Perse--to whom was given, as she declared in disconsolate

negligence of her still provocatively fresh plumpness, all of the

bestowable affection that remained in the devastated recesses of her

withered heart.



To preclude any possibility of compromising misunderstanding, it is but

just to Madame Jolicoeur to explain at once that the personage thus in

receipt of the contingent remainder of her blighted affections--far from

being, as his name would suggest, an Oriental potentate temporarily

domiciled in Marseille to whom she had taken something more than a

passing fancy--was a Persian superb black cat; and a cat of such rare

excellencies of character and of acquirements as fully to deserve all of

the affection that any heart of the right sort--withered, or

otherwise--was disposed to bestow upon him.



Cats of his perfect beauty, of his perfect grace, possibly might be

found, Madame Jolicoeur grudgingly admitted, in the Persian royal

catteries; but nowhere else in the Orient, and nowhere at all in the

Occident, she declared with an energetic conviction, possibly could

there be found a cat who even approached him in intellectual

development, in wealth of interesting accomplishments, and, above all,

in natural sweetness of disposition--a sweetness so marked that even

under extreme provocation he never had been known to thrust out an angry

paw. This is not to say that the Shah de Perse was a characterless cat,

a lymphatic nonentity. On occasion--usually in connection with food that

was distasteful to him--he could have his resentments; but they were

manifested always with a dignified restraint. His nearest approach to

ill-mannered abruptness was to bat with a contemptuous paw the offending

morsel from his plate; which brusque act he followed by fixing upon the

bestower of unworthy food a coldly, but always politely, contemptuous

stare. Ordinarily, however, his displeasure--in the matter of unsuitable

food, or in other matters--was exhibited by no more overt action than

his retirement to a corner--he had his choices in corners, governed by

the intensity of his feelings--and there seating himself with his back

turned scornfully to an offending world. Even in his kindliest corner,

on such occasions, the expression of his scornful back was as a whole

volume of winged words!



But the rare little cat tantrums of the Shah de Perse--if to his so

gentle excesses may be applied so strong a term--were but as sun-spots

on the effulgence of his otherwise constant amiability. His regnant

desires, by which his worthy little life was governed, were to love and

to please. He was the most cuddlesome cat, Madame Jolicoeur

unhesitatingly asserted, that ever had lived; and he had a purr--softly

thunderous and winningly affectionate--that was in keeping with his

cuddlesome ways. When, of his own volition, he would jump into her

abundant lap and go to burrowing with his little soft round head beneath

her soft round elbows, the while gurglingly purring forth his love for

her, Madame Jolicoeur, quite justifiably, at times was moved to tears.

Equally was his sweet nature exhibited in his always eager willingness

to show off his little train of cat accomplishments. He would give his

paw with a courteous grace to any lady or gentleman--he drew the caste

line rigidly--who asked for it. For his mistress, he would spring to a

considerable height and clutch with his two soft paws--never by any

mistake scratching--her outstretched wrist, and so would remain

suspended while he delicately nibbled from between her fingers her

edible offering. For her, he would make an almost painfully real

pretence of being a dead cat: extending himself upon the rug with an

exaggeratedly death-like rigidity--and so remaining until her command to

be alive again brought him briskly to rub himself, rising on his hind

legs and purring mellowly, against her comfortable knees.



All of these interesting tricks, with various others that may be passed

over, he would perform with a lively zest whenever set at them by a mere

word of prompting; but his most notable trick was a game in which he

engaged with his mistress not at word of command, but--such was his

intelligence--simply upon her setting the signal for it. The signal was

a close-fitting white cap--to be quite frank, a night-cap--that she

tied upon her head when it was desired that the game should be played.



It was of the game that Madame Jolicoeur should assume her cap with an

air of detachment and aloofness: as though no such entity as the Shah de

Perse existed, and with an insisted-upon disregard of the fact that he

was watching her alertly with his great golden eyes. Equally was it of

the game that the Shah de Perse should affect--save for his alert

watching--a like disregard of the doings of Madame Jolicoeur: usually

by an ostentatious pretence of washing his upraised hind leg, or by a

like pretence of scrubbing his ears. These conventions duly having been

observed, Madame Jolicoeur would seat herself in her especial

easy-chair, above the relatively high back of which her night-capped

head a little rose. Being so seated, always with the air of aloofness

and detachment, she would take a book from the table and make a show of

becoming absorbed in its contents. Matters being thus advanced, the Shah

de Perse would make a show of becoming absorbed in searchings for an

imaginary mouse--but so would conduct his fictitious quest for that

supposititious animal as eventually to achieve for himself a strategic

position close behind Madame Jolicoeur's chair. Then, dramatically,

the pleasing end of the game would come: as the Shah de Perse--leaping

with the distinguishing grace and lightness of his Persian race--would

flash upward and "surprise" Madame Jolicoeur by crowning her

white-capped head with his small black person, all a-shake with

triumphant purrs! It was a charming little comedy--and so well

understood by the Shah de Perse that he never ventured to essay it

under other, and more intimate, conditions of night-cap use; even as he

never failed to engage in it with spirit when his white lure properly

was set for him above the back of Madame Jolicoeur's chair. It was as

though to the Shah de Perse the white night-cap of Madame Jolicoeur,

displayed in accordance with the rules of the game, were an oriflamme:

akin to, but in minor points differing from, the helmet of Navarre.



Being such a cat, it will be perceived that Madame Jolicoeur had

reason in her avowed intention to bestow upon him all of the bestowable

affection remnant in her withered heart's devastated recesses; and,

equally, that she would not be wholly desolate, having such a cat to

comfort her, while standing impartially attendant upon the decrees of

fate.



* * * * *



To assert that any woman not conspicuously old and quite conspicuously

of a fresh plumpness could be left in any city isolate, save for a cat's

company, while the fates were spinning new threads for her, would be to

put a severe strain upon credulity. To make that assertion specifically

of Madame Jolicoeur, and specifically--of all cities in the world!--of

Marseille, would be to strain credulity fairly to the breaking point. On

the other hand, to assert that Madame Jolicoeur, in defence of her

isolation, was disposed to plant machine-guns in the doorway of her

dwelling--a house of modest elegance on the Pave d'Amour, at the

crossing of the Rue Bausset--would be to go too far. Nor indeed--aside

from the fact that the presence of such engines of destruction would

not have been tolerated by the other residents of the quietly

respectable Pave d'Amour--was Madame Jolicoeur herself, as has been

intimated, temperamentally inclined to go to such lengths as

machine-guns in maintenance of her somewhat waveringly desired privacy

in a merely cat-enlivened solitude.



Between these widely separated extremes of conjectural possibility lay

the mediate truth of the matter: which truth--thus resembling precious

gold in its valueless rock matrix--lay embedded in, and was to be

extracted from, the irresponsible utterances of the double row of

loosely hung tongues, always at hot wagging, ranged along the two sides

of the Rue Bausset.



Madame Jouval, a milliner of repute--delivering herself with the

generosity due to a good customer from whom an order for a trousseau was

a not unremote possibility, yet with the acumen perfected by her

professional experiences--summed her views of the situation, in talk

with Madame Vic, proprietor of the Vic bakery, in these words: "It is of

the convenances, and equally is it of her own melancholy necessities,

that this poor Madame retires for a season to sorrow in a suitable

seclusion in the company of her sympathetic cat. Only in such retreat

can she give vent fitly to her desolating grief. But after storm comes

sunshine: and I am happily assured by her less despairing appearance,

and by the new mourning that I have been making for her, that even now,

from the bottomless depth of her affliction, she looks beyond the

storm."



"I well believe it!" snapped Madame Vic. "That the appearance of Madame

Jolicoeur at any time has been despairing is a matter that has

escaped my notice. As to the mourning that she now wears, it is a

defiance of all propriety. Why, with no more than that of colour in her

frock"--Madame Vic upheld her thumb and finger infinitesimally

separated--"and with a mere pin-point of a flower in her bonnet, she

would be fit for the opera!"



Madame Vic spoke with a caustic bitterness that had its roots. Her own

venture in second marriage had been catastrophic--so catastrophic that

her neglected bakery had gone very much to the bad. Still more closely

to the point, Madame Jolicoeur--incident to finding entomologic

specimens misplaced in her breakfast-rolls--had taken the leading part

in an interchange of incivilities with the bakery's proprietor, and had

withdrawn from it her custom.



"And even were her mournings not a flouting of her short year of

widowhood," continued Madame Vic, with an acrimony that abbreviated the

term of widowhood most unfairly--"the scores of eligible suitors who

openly come streaming to her door, and are welcomed there, are as

trumpets proclaiming her audacious intentions and her indecorous

desires. Even Monsieur Brisson is in that outrageous procession! Is it

not enough that she should entice a repulsively bald-headed notary and

an old rake of a major to make their brazen advances, without suffering

this anatomy of a pharmacien to come treading on their heels?--he with

his hands imbrued in the life-blood of the unhappy old woman whom his

mismade prescription sent in agony to the tomb! Pah! I have no patience

with her! She and her grief and her seclusion and her sympathetic cat,

indeed! It all is a tragedy of indiscretion--that shapes itself as a

revolting farce!"



It will be observed that Madame Vic, in framing her bill of particulars,

practically reduced her alleged scores of Madame Jolicoeur's suitors

to precisely two--since the bad third was handicapped so heavily by that

notorious matter of the mismade prescription as to be a negligible

quantity, quite out of the race. Indeed, it was only the preposterous

temerity of Monsieur Brisson--despairingly clutching at any chance to

retrieve his broken fortunes--that put him in the running at all. With

the others, in such slighting terms referred to by Madame Vic--Monsieur

Peloux, a notary of standing, and the Major Gontard, of the Twenty-ninth

of the Line--the case was different. It had its sides.



"That this worthy lady reasonably may desire again to wed," declared

Monsieur Fromagin, actual proprietor of the Epicerie Russe--an

establishment liberally patronized by Madame Jolicoeur--"is as true as

that when she goes to make her choosings between these estimable

gentlemen she cannot make a choice that is wrong."



Madame Gauthier, a clear-starcher of position, to whom Monsieur Fromagin

thus addressed himself, was less broadly positive. "That is a matter of

opinion," she answered; and added: "To go no further than the very

beginning, Monsieur should perceive that her choice has exactly fifty

chances in the hundred of going wrong: lying, as it does, between a

meagre, sallow-faced creature of a death-white baldness, and a fine big

pattern of a man, strong and ruddy, with a close-clipped but abundant

thatch on his head, and a moustache that admittedly is superb!"



"Ah, there speaks the woman!" said Monsieur Fromagin, with a patronizing

smile distinctly irritating. "Madame will recognize--if she will but

bring herself to look a little beyond the mere outside--that what I have

advanced is not a matter of opinion but of fact. Observe: Here is

Monsieur Peloux--to whose trifling leanness and aristocratic baldness

the thoughtful give no attention--easily a notary in the very first

rank. As we all know, his services are sought in cases of the most

exigent importance--"



"For example," interrupted Madame Gauthier, "the case of the insurance

solicitor, in whose countless defraudings my own brother was a sufferer:

a creature of a vileness, whose deserts were unnumbered ages of

dungeons--and who, thanks to the chicaneries of Monsieur Peloux, at this

moment walks free as air!"



"It is of the professional duty of advocates," replied Monsieur

Fromagin, sententiously, "to defend their clients; on the successful

discharge of that duty--irrespective of minor details--depends their

fame. Madame neglects the fact that Monsieur Peloux, by his masterly

conduct of the case that she specifies, won for himself from his legal

colleagues an immense applause."



"The more shame to his legal colleagues!" commented Madame Gauthier

curtly.



"But leaving that affair quite aside," continued Monsieur Fromagin

airily, but with insistence, "here is this notable advocate who reposes

his important homages at Madame Jolicoeur's feet: he a man of an age

that is suitable, without being excessive; who has in the community an

assured position; whose more than moderate wealth is known. I insist,

therefore, that should she accept his homages she would do well."



"And I insist," declared Madame Gauthier stoutly, "that should she turn

her back upon the Major Gontard she would do most ill!"



"Madame a little disregards my premises," Monsieur Fromagin spoke in a

tone of forbearance, "and therefore a little argues--it is the privilege

of her sex--against the air. Distinctly, I do not exclude from Madame

Jolicoeur's choice that gallant Major: whose rank--now approaching him

to the command of a regiment, and fairly equalling the position at the

bar achieved by Monsieur Peloux--has been won, grade by grade, by deeds

of valour in his African campaignings which have made him conspicuous

even in the army that stands first in such matters of all the armies of

the world. Moreover--although, admittedly, in that way Monsieur Peloux

makes a better showing--he is of an easy affluence. On the Camargue he

has his excellent estate in vines, from which comes a revenue more than

sufficing to satisfy more than modest wants. At Les Martigues he has his

charming coquette villa, smothered in the flowers of his own planting,

to which at present he makes his agreeable escapes from his military

duties; and in which, when his retreat is taken, he will pass softly his

sunset years. With these substantial points in his favour, the standing

of the Major Gontard in this matter practically is of a parity with the

standing of Monsieur Peloux. Equally, both are worthy of Madame

Jolicoeur's consideration: both being able to continue her in the life

of elegant comfort to which she is accustomed; and both being on a

social plane--it is of her level accurately--to which the widow of an

ingenieur des ponts et chaussees neither steps up nor steps down. Having

now made clear, I trust, my reasonings, I repeat the proposition with

which Madame took issue: When Madame Jolicoeur goes to make her

choosings between these estimable gentlemen she cannot make a choice

that is wrong."



"And I repeat, Monsieur," said Madame Gauthier, lifting her basket from

the counter, "that in making her choosings Madame Jolicoeur either

goes to raise herself to the heights of a matured happiness, or to

plunge herself into bald-headed abysses of despair. Yes, Monsieur, that

far apart are her choosings!" And Madame Gauthier added, in communion

with herself as she passed to the street with her basket: "As for me, it

would be that adorable Major by a thousand times!"



* * * * *



As was of reason, since hers was the first place in the matter, Madame

Jolicoeur herself carried on debatings--in the portion of her heart

that had escaped complete devastation--identical in essence with the

debatings of her case which went up and down the Rue Bausset.



Not having become devote--in the year and more of opportunity open to

her for a turn in that direction--one horn of her original dilemma had

been eliminated, so to say, by atrophy. Being neglected, it had

withered: with the practical result that out of her very indecisions had

come a decisive choice. But to her new dilemma, of which the horns were

the Major and the Notary--in the privacy of her secret thoughts she made

no bones of admitting that this dilemma confronted her--the atrophying

process was not applicable; at least, not until it could be applied with

a sharp finality. Too long dallied with, it very well might lead to the

atrophy of both of them in dudgeon; and thence onward, conceivably, to

her being left to cling only to the Shah de Perse for all the remainder

of her days.



Therefore, to the avoidance of that too radical conclusion, Madame

Jolicoeur engaged in her debatings briskly: offering to herself, in

effect, the balanced arguments advanced by Monsieur Fromagin in favour

equally of Monsieur Peloux and of the Major Gontard; taking as her own,

with moderating exceptions and emendations, the views of Madame Gauthier

as to the meagreness and pallid baldness of the one and the sturdiness

and gallant bearing of the other; considering, from the standpoint of

her own personal knowledge in the premises, the Notary's disposition

toward a secretive reticence that bordered upon severity, in contrast

with the cordially frank and debonair temperament of the Major; and, at

the back of all, keeping well in mind the fundamental truths that

opportunity ever is evanescent and that time ever is on the wing.



As the result of her debatings, and not less as the result of experience

gained in her earlier campaigning, Madame Jolicoeur took up a

strategic position nicely calculated to inflame the desire for, by

assuming the uselessness of, an assault. In set terms, confirming

particularly her earlier and more general avowal, she declared equally

to the Major and to the Notary that absolutely the whole of her

bestowable affection--of the remnant in her withered heart available for

distribution--was bestowed upon the Shah de Perse: and so, with an

alluring nonchalance, left them to draw the logical conclusion that

their strivings to win that desirable quantity were idle--since a

definite disposition of it already had been made.



The reply of the Major Gontard to this declaration was in keeping with

his known amiability, but also was in keeping with his military habit of

command. "Assuredly," he said, "Madame shall continue to bestow, within

reason, her affections upon Monsieur le Shah; and with them that brave

animal--he is a cat of ten thousand--shall have my affections as well.

Already, knowing my feeling for him, we are friends--as Madame shall see

to her own convincing." Addressing himself in tones of kindly persuasion

to the Shah de Perse, he added: "Viens, Monsieur!"--whereupon the Shah

de Perse instantly jumped himself to the Major's knee and broke forth,

in response to a savant rubbing of his soft little jowls, into his

gurgling purr. "Voila, Madame!" continued the Major. "It is to be

perceived that we have our good understandings, the Shah de Perse and I.

That we all shall live happily together tells itself without words. But

observe"--of a sudden the voice of the Major thrilled with a deep

earnestness, and his style of address changed to a familiarity that only

the intensity of his feeling condoned--"I am resolved that to me, above

all, shall be given thy dear affections. Thou shalt give me the perfect

flower of them--of that fact rest thou assured. In thy heart I am to be

the very first--even as in my heart thou thyself art the very first of

all the world. In Africa I have had my successes in my conquests and

holdings of fortresses. Believe me, I shall have an equal success in

conquering and in holding the sweetest fortress in France!"



Certainly, the Major Gontard had a bold way with him. But that it had

its attractions, not to say its compellings, Madame Jolicoeur could

not honestly deny.



On the part of the Notary--whose disposition, fostered by his

profession, was toward subtlety rather than toward boldness--Madame

Jolicoeur's declaration of cat rights was received with no such

belligerent blare of trumpets and beat of drums. He met it with a light

show of banter--beneath which, to come to the surface later, lay hidden

dark thoughts.



"Madame makes an excellent pleasantry," he said with a smile of the

blandest. "Without doubt, not a very flattering pleasantry--but I know

that her denial of me in favour of her cat is but a jesting at which we

both may laugh. And we may laugh together the better because, in the

roots of her jesting, we have our sympathies. I also have an intensity

of affection for cats"--to be just to Monsieur Peloux, who loathed cats,

it must be said that he gulped as he made this flagrantly untruthful

statement--"and with this admirable cat, so dear to Madame, it goes to

make itself that we speedily become enduring friends."



Curiously enough--a mere coincidence, of course--as the Notary uttered

these words so sharply at points with veracity, in the very moment of

them, the Shah de Perse stiffly retired into his sulkiest corner and

turned what had every appearance of being a scornful back upon the

world.



Judiciously ignoring this inopportunely equivocal incident, Monsieur

Peloux reverted to the matter in chief and concluded his deliverance in

these words: "I well understand, I repeat, that Madame for the moment

makes a comedy of herself and of her cat for my amusing. But I persuade

myself that her droll fancyings will not be lasting, and that she will

be serious with me in the end. Until then--and then most of all--I am at

her feet humbly: an unworthy, but a very earnest, suppliant for her

good-will. Should she have the cruelty to refuse my supplication, it

will remain with me to die in an unmerited despair!"



Certainly, this was an appeal--of a sort. But even without perceiving

the mitigating subtlety of its comminative final clause--so skilfully

worded as to leave Monsieur Peloux free to bring off his threatened

unmeritedly despairing death quite at his own convenience--Madame

Jolicoeur did not find it satisfying. In contrast with the Major

Gontard's ringingly audacious declarations of his habits in dealing with

fortresses, she felt that it lacked force. And, also--this, of course,

was a sheer weakness--she permitted herself to be influenced appreciably

by the indicated preferences of the Shah de Perse: who had jumped to the

knee of the Major with an affectionate alacrity; and who undeniably had

turned on the Notary--either by chance or by intention--a back of scorn.



As the general outcome of these several developments, Madame

Jolicoeur's debatings came to have in them--if I so may state the

trend of her mental activities--fewer bald heads and more moustaches;

and her never severely set purpose to abide in a loneliness relieved

only by the Shah de Perse was abandoned root and branch.



* * * * *



While Madame Jolicoeur continued her debatings--which, in their

modified form, manifestly were approaching her to conclusions--water was

running under bridges elsewhere.



In effect, her hesitancies produced a period of suspense that gave

opportunity for, and by the exasperating delay of it stimulated, the

resolution of the Notary's dark thoughts into darker deeds. With reason,

he did not accept at its face value Madame Jolicoeur's declaration

touching the permanent bestowal of her remnant affections; but he did

believe that there was enough in it to make the Shah de Perse a delaying

obstacle to his own acquisition of them. When obstacles got in this

gentleman's way it was his habit to kick them out of it--a habit that

had not been unduly stunted by half a lifetime of successful practice at

the criminal bar.



Because of his professional relations with them, Monsieur Peloux had an

extensive acquaintance among criminals of varying shades of

intensity--at times, in his dubious doings, they could be useful to

him--hidden away in the shadowy nooks and corners of the city; and he

also had his emissaries through whom they could be reached. All the

conditions thus standing attendant upon his convenience, it was a facile

matter for him to make an appointment with one of these disreputables

at a cabaret of bad record in the Quartier de la Tourette: a

region--bordering upon the north side of the Vieux Port--that is at once

the oldest and the foulest quarter of Marseille.



In going to keep this appointment--as was his habit on such occasions,

in avoidance of possible spying upon his movements--he went deviously:

taking a cab to the Bassin de Carenage, as though some maritime matter

engaged him, and thence making the transit of the Vieux Port in a bateau

mouche. It was while crossing in the ferryboat that a sudden shuddering

beset him: as he perceived with horror--but without repentance--the pit

into which he descended. In his previous, always professional, meetings

with criminals his position had been that of unassailable dominance. In

his pending meeting--since he himself would be not only a criminal but

an inciter to crime--he would be, in the essence of the matter, the

under dog. Beneath his seemly black hat his bald head went whiter than

even its normal deathly whiteness, and perspiration started from its

every pore. Almost with a groan, he removed his hat and dried with his

handkerchief what were in a way his tears of shame.



Over the interview between Monsieur Peloux and his hireling--cheerfully

moistened, on the side of the hireling, with absinthe of a vileness in

keeping with its place of purchase--decency demands the partial drawing

of a veil. In brief, Monsieur Peloux--his guilty eyes averted, the

shame-tears streaming afresh from his bald head--presented his criminal

demand and stated the sum that he would pay for its gratification. This

sum--being in keeping with his own estimate of what it paid for--was so

much in excess of the hireling's views concerning the value of a mere

cat-killing that he fairly jumped at it.



"Be not disturbed, Monsieur!" he replied, with the fervour of one really

grateful, and with the expansive extravagance of a Marseillais keyed up

with exceptionally bad absinthe. "Be not disturbed in the smallest! In

this very coming moment this camel of a cat shall die a thousand deaths;

and in but another moment immeasurable quantities of salt and ashes

shall obliterate his justly despicable grave! To an instant

accomplishment of Monsieur's wishes I pledge whole-heartedly the word of

an honest man."



Actually--barring the number of deaths to be inflicted on the Shah de

Perse, and the needlessly defiling concealment of his burial-place--this

radical treatment of the matter was precisely what Monsieur Peloux

desired; and what, in terms of innuendo and euphuism, he had asked for.

But the brutal frankness of the hireling, and his evident delight in

sinning for good wages, came as an arousing shock to the enfeebled

remnant of the Notary's better nature--with a resulting vacillation of

purpose to which he would have risen superior had he been longer

habituated to the ways of crime.



"No! No!" he said weakly. "I did not mean that--by no means all of that.

At least--that is to say--you will understand me, my good man, that

enough will be done if you remove the cat from Marseille. Yes, that is

what I mean--take it somewhere. Take it to Cassis, to Arles, to

Avignon--where you will--and leave it there. The railway ticket is my

charge--and, also, you have an extra napoleon for your refreshment by

the way. Yes, that suffices. In a bag, you know--and soon!"



Returning across the Vieux Port in the bateau mouche, Monsieur Peloux no

longer shuddered in dread of crime to be committed--his shuddering was

for accomplished crime. On his bald head, unheeded, the gushing tears of

shame accumulated in pools.



* * * * *



When leaves of absence permitted him to make retirements to his coquette

little estate at Les Martigues, the Major Gontard was as another

Cincinnatus: with the minor differences that the lickerish cookings of

the brave Marthe--his old femme de menage: a veritable protagonist among

cooks, even in Provence--checked him on the side of severe simplicity;

that he would have welcomed with effusion lictors, or others, come to

announce his advance to a regiment; and that he made no use whatever of

a plow.



In the matter of the plow, he had his excuses. His two or three acres of

land lay on a hillside banked in tiny terraces--quite unsuited to the

use of that implement--and the whole of his agricultural energies were

given to the cultivation of flowers. Among his flowers, intelligently

assisted by old Michel, he worked with a zeal bred of his affection for

them; and after his workings, when the cool of evening was come, smoked

his pipe refreshingly while seated on the vine-bowered estrade before

his trim villa on the crest of the slope: the while sniffing with a just

interest at the fumes of old Marthe's cookings, and placidly delighting

in the ever-new beauties of the sunsets above the distant mountains and

their near-by reflected beauties in the waters of the Etang de Berre.



Save in his professional relations with recalcitrant inhabitants of

Northern Africa, he was of a gentle nature, this amiable warrior: ever

kindly, when kindliness was deserved, in all his dealings with mankind.

Equally, his benevolence was extended to the lower orders of

animals--that it was understood, and reciprocated, the willing jumping

of the Shah de Perse to his friendly knee made manifest--and was

exhibited in practical ways. Naturally, he was a liberal contributor to

the funds of the Societe protectrice des animaux; and, what was more to

the purpose, it was his well-rooted habit to do such protecting as was

necessary, on his own account, when he chanced upon any suffering

creature in trouble or in pain.



Possessing these commendable characteristics, it follows that the doings

of the Major Gontard in the railway station at Pas de Lanciers--on the

day sequent to the day on which Monsieur Peloux was the promoter of a

criminal conspiracy--could not have been other than they were. Equally

does it follow that his doings produced the doings of the man with the

bag.



Pas de Lanciers is the little station at which one changes trains in

going from Marseille to Les Martigues. Descending from a first-class

carriage, the Major Gontard awaited the Martigues train--his leave was

for two days, and his thoughts were engaged pleasantly with the

breakfast that old Marthe would have ready for him and with plans for

his flowers. From a third-class carriage descended the man with the

bag, who also awaited the Martigues train. Presently--the two happening

to come together in their saunterings up and down the platform--the

Major's interest was aroused by observing that within the bag went on a

persistent wriggling; and his interest was quickened into characteristic

action when he heard from its interior, faintly but quite distinctly, a

very pitiful half-strangled little mew!



"In another moment," said the Major, addressing the man sharply, "that

cat will be suffocated. Open the bag instantly and give it air!"



"Pardon, Monsieur," replied the man, starting guiltily. "This excellent

cat is not suffocating. In the bag it breathes freely with all its

lungs. It is a pet cat, having the habitude to travel in this manner;

and, because it is of a friendly disposition, it is accustomed thus to

make its cheerful little remarks." By way of comment upon this

explanation, there came from the bag another half-strangled mew that was

not at all suggestive of cheerfulness. It was a faint miserable

mew--that told of cat despair!



At that juncture a down train came in on the other side of the platform,

a train on its way to Marseille.



"Thou art a brute!" said the Major, tersely. "I shall not suffer thy

cruelties to continue!" As he spoke, he snatched away the bag from its

uneasy possessor and applied himself to untying its confining cord.

Oppressed by the fear that goes with evil-doing, the man hesitated for a

moment before attempting to retrieve what constructively was his

property.



In that fateful moment the bag opened and a woebegone little black

cat-head appeared; and then the whole of a delighted little black

cat-body emerged--and cuddled with joy-purrs of recognition in its

deliverer's arms! Within the sequent instant the recognition was mutual.

"Thunder of guns!" cried the Major. "It is the Shah de Perse!"



Being thus caught red-handed, the hireling of Monsieur Peloux cowered.

"Brigand!" continued the Major. "Thou hast ravished away this charming

cat by the foulest of robberies. Thou art worse than the scum of Arab

camp-followings. And if I had thee to myself, over there in the desert,"

he added grimly, "thou shouldst go the same way!"



All overawed by the Major's African attitude, the hireling took to

whining. "Monsieur will believe me when I tell him that I am but an

unhappy tool--I, an honest man whom a rich tempter, taking advantage of

my unmerited poverty, has betrayed into crime. Monsieur himself shall

judge me when I have told him all!" And then--with creditably

imaginative variations on the theme of a hypothetical dying wife in

combination with six supposititious starving children--the man came

close enough to telling all to make clear that his backer in

cat-stealing was Monsieur Peloux!



With a gasp of astonishment, the Major again took the word. "What

matters it, animal, by whom thy crime was prompted? Thou art the

perpetrator of it--and to thee comes punishment! Shackles and prisons

are in store for thee! I shall--"



But what the Major Gontard had in mind to do toward assisting the march

of retributive justice is immaterial--since he did not do it. Even as

he spoke--in these terms of doom that qualifying conditions rendered

doomless--the man suddenly dodged past him, bolted across the platform,

jumped to the foot-board of a carriage of the just-starting train,

cleverly bundled himself through an open window, and so was gone:

leaving the Major standing lonely, with impotent rage filling his heart,

and with the Shah de Perse all a purring cuddle in his arms!



Acting on a just impulse, the Major Gontard sped to the telegraph

office. Two hours must pass before he could follow the miscreant; but

the departed train ran express to Marseille, and telegraphic heading-off

was possible. To his flowers, and to the romance of a breakfast that old

Marthe by then was in the very act of preparing for him, his thoughts

went in bitter relinquishment: but his purpose was stern! Plumping the

Shah de Perse down anyway on the telegraph table, and seizing a pen

fiercely, he began his writings. And then, of a sudden, an inspiration

came to him that made him stop in his writings--and that changed his

flames of anger into flames of joy.



His first act under the influence of this new and better emotion was to

tear his half-finished dispatch into fragments. His second act was to

assuage the needs, physical and psychical, of the Shah de Perse--near to

collapse for lack of food and drink, and his little cat feelings hurt by

his brusque deposition on the telegraph table--by carrying him tenderly

to the buffet; and there--to the impolitely over-obvious amusement of

the buffetiere--purchasing cream without stint for the allaying of his

famishings. To his feasting the Shah de Perse went with the avid energy

begotten of his bag-compelled long fast. Dipping his little red tongue

deep into the saucer, he lapped with a vigour that all cream-splattered

his little black nose. Yet his admirable little cat manners were not

forgotten: even in the very thick of his eager lappings--pathetically

eager, in view of the cause of them--he purred forth gratefully, with a

gurgling chokiness, his earnest little cat thanks.



As the Major Gontard watched this pleasing spectacle his heart was all

aglow within him and his face was of a radiance comparable only with

that of an Easter-morning sun. To himself he was saying: "It is a dream

that has come to me! With the disgraced enemy in retreat, and with the

Shah de Perse for my banner, it is that I hold victoriously the whole

universe in the hollow of my hand!"



* * * * *



While stopping appreciably short of claiming for himself a clutch upon

the universe, Monsieur Peloux also had his satisfactions on the evening

of the day that had witnessed the enlevement of the Shah de Perse. By

his own eyes he knew certainly that that iniquitous kidnapping of a

virtuous cat had been effected. In the morning the hireling had brought

to him in his private office the unfortunate Shah de Perse--all

unhappily bagged, and even then giving vent to his pathetic

complainings--and had exhibited him, as a piece justificatif, when

making his demand for railway fare and the promised extra napoleon. In

the mid-afternoon the hireling had returned, with the satisfying

announcement that all was accomplished: that he had carried the cat to

Pas de Lanciers, of an adequate remoteness, and there had left him with

a person in need of a cat who received him willingly. Being literally

true, this statement had in it so convincing a ring of sincerity that

Monsieur Peloux paid down in full the blood-money and dismissed his

bravo with commendation. Thereafter, being alone, he rubbed his

hands--gladly thinking of what was in the way to happen in sequence to

the permanent removal of this cat stumbling-block from his path.

Although professionally accustomed to consider the possibilities of

permutation, the known fact that petards at times are retroactive did

not present itself to his mind.



And yet--being only an essayist in crime, still unhardened--certain

compunctions beset him as he approached himself, on the to-be eventful

evening of that eventful day, to the door of Madame Jolicoeur's

modestly elegant dwelling on the Pave d'Amour. In the back of his head

were justly self-condemnatory thoughts, to the general effect that he

was a blackguard and deserved to be kicked. In the dominant front of his

head, however, were thoughts of a more agreeable sort: of how he would

find Madame Jolicoeur all torn and rent by the bitter sorrow of her

bereavement; of how he would pour into her harried heart a flood of

sympathy by which that injured organ would be soothed and mollified; of

how she would be lured along gently to requite his tender condolence

with a softening gratitude--that presently would merge easily into the

yet softer phrase of love! It was a well-made program, and it had its

kernel of reason in his recognized ability to win bad causes--as that

of the insurance solicitor--by emotional pleadings which in the same

breath lured to lenience and made the intrinsic demerits of the cause

obscure.



"Madame dines," was the announcement that met Monsieur Peloux when, in

response to his ring, Madame Jolicoeur's door was opened for him by a

trim maid-servant. "But Madame already has continued so long her

dining," added the maid-servant, with a glint in her eyes that escaped

his preoccupied attention, "that in but another instant must come the

end. If M'sieu' will have the amiability to await her in the salon, it

will be for but a point of time!"



Between this maid-servant and Monsieur Peloux no love was lost.

Instinctively he was aware of, and resented, her views--practically

identical with those expressed by Madame Gauthier to Monsieur

Fromagin--touching his deserts as compared with the deserts of the Major

Gontard. Moreover, she had personal incentives to take her revenges.

From Monsieur Peloux, her only vail had been a miserable two-franc

Christmas box. From the Major, as from a perpetually verdant

Christmas-tree, boxes of bonbons and five-franc pieces at all times

descended upon her in showers.



Without perceiving the curious smile that accompanied this young

person's curiously cordial invitation to enter, he accepted the

invitation and was shown into the salon: where he seated himself--a

left-handedness of which he would have been incapable had he been less

perturbed--in Madame Jolicoeur's own special chair. An anatomical

vagary of the Notary's meagre person was the undue shortness of his body

and the undue length of his legs. Because of this eccentricity of

proportion, his bald head rose above the back of the chair to a height

approximately identical with that of its normal occupant.



His waiting time--extending from its promised point to what seemed to

him to be a whole geographical meridian--went slowly. To relieve it,

he took a book from the table, and in a desultory manner turned the

leaves. While thus perfunctorily engaged, he heard the clicking of an

opening door, and then the sound of voices: of Madame Jolicoeur's

voice, and of a man's voice--which latter, coming nearer, he recognized

beyond all doubting as the voice of the Major Gontard. Of other voices

there was not a sound: whence the compromising fact was obvious that

the two had gone through that long dinner together, and alone! Knowing,

as he did, Madame Jolicoeur's habitual disposition toward the

convenances--willingly to be boiled in oil rather than in the smallest

particular to abrade them--he perceived that only two explanations of

the situation were possible: either she had lapsed of a sudden into

madness; or--the thought was petrifying--the Major Gontard had won out

in his French campaigning on his known conquering African lines. The

cheerfully sane tone of the lady's voice forbade him to clutch at the

poor solace to be found in the first alternative--and so forced him to

accept the second. Yielding for a moment to his emotions, the

death-whiteness of his bald head taking on a still deathlier pallor,

Monsieur Peloux buried his face in his hands and groaned.



In that moment of his obscured perception a little black personage

trotted into the salon on soundless paws. Quite possibly, in his then

overwrought condition, had Monsieur Peloux seen this personage enter he

would have shrieked--in the confident belief that before him was a cat

ghost! Pointedly, it was not a ghost. It was the happy little Shah de

Perse himself--all a-frisk with the joy of his blessed home-coming and

very much alive! Knowing, as I do, many of the mysterious ways of little

cat souls, I even venture to believe that his overbubbling gladness

largely was due to his sympathetic perception of the gladness that his

home-coming had brought to two human hearts.



Certainly, all through that long dinner the owners of those hearts had

done their best, by their pettings and their pamperings of him, to make

him a participant in their deep happiness; and he, gratefully

respondent, had made his affectionate thankings by going through all of

his repertory of tricks--with one exception--again and again. Naturally,

his great trick, while unexhibited, repeatedly had been referred to.

Blushing delightfully, Madame Jolicoeur had told about the night-cap

that was a necessary part of it; and had promised--blushing still more

delightfully--that at some time, in the very remote future, the Major

should see it performed. For my own part, because of my knowledge of

little cat souls, I am persuaded that the Shah de Perse, while missing

the details of this love-laughing talk, did get into his head the

general trend of it; and therefore did trot on in advance into the salon

with his little cat mind full of the notion that Madame Jolicoeur

immediately would follow him--to seat herself, duly night-capped, book

in hand, in signal for their game of surprises to begin.



Unconscious of the presence of the Shah de Perse, tortured by the gay

tones of the approaching voices, clutching his book vengefully as though

it were a throat, his bald head beaded with the sweat of agony and the

pallor of it intensified by his poignant emotion, Monsieur Peloux sat

rigid in Madame Jolicoeur's chair!



* * * * *



"It is declared," said Monsieur Brisson, addressing himself to Madame

Jouval, for whom he was in the act of preparing what was spoken of

between them as "the tonic," a courteous euphuism, "that that villain

Notary, aided by a bandit hired to his assistance, was engaged in

administering poison to the cat; and that the brave animal, freeing

itself from the bandit's holdings, tore to destruction the whole of his

bald head--and then triumphantly escaped to its home!"



"A sight to see is that head of his!" replied Madame Jouval. "So swathed

is it in bandages, that the turban of the Grand Turk is less!" Madame

Jouval spoke in tones of satisfaction that were of reason--already she

had held conferences with Madame Jolicoeur in regard to the trousseau.



"And all," continued Monsieur Brisson, with rancour, "because of his

jealousies of the cat's place in Madame Jolicoeur's affections--the

affections which he so hopelessly hoped, forgetful of his own

repulsiveness, to win for himself!"



"Ah, she has done well, that dear lady," said Madame Jouval warmly. "As

between the Notary--repulsive, as Monsieur justly terms him--and the

charming Major, her instincts rightly have directed her. To her worthy

cat, who aided in her choosing, she has reason to be grateful. Now her

cruelly wounded heart will find solace. That she should wed again, and

happily, was Heaven's will."



"It was the will of the baggage herself!" declared Monsieur Brisson with

bitterness. "Hardly had she put on her travesty of a mourning than she

began her oglings of whole armies of men!"



Aside from having confected with her own hands the mourning to which

Monsieur Brisson referred so disparagingly, Madame Jouval was not one to

hear calmly the ascription of the term baggage--the word has not lost in

its native French, as it has lost in its naturalized English, its

original epithetical intensity--to a patroness from whom she was in the

very article of receiving an order for an exceptionally rich trousseau.

Naturally, she bristled. "Monsieur must admit at least," she said

sharply, "that her oglings did not come in his direction;" and with an

irritatingly smooth sweetness added: "As to the dealings of Monsieur

Peloux with the cat, Monsieur doubtless speaks with an assured

knowledge. Remembering, as we all do, the affair of the unhappy old

woman, it is easy to perceive that to Monsieur, above all others, any

one in need of poisonings would come!"



The thrust was so keen that for the moment Monsieur Brisson met it only

with a savage glare. Then the bottle that he handed to Madame Jouval

inspired him with an answer. "Madame is in error," he said with

politeness. "For poisons it is possible to go variously elsewhere--as,

for example, to Madame's tongue." Had he stopped with that retort

courteous, but also searching, he would have done well. He did ill by

adding to it the retort brutal: "But that old women of necessity come to

me for their hair-dyes is another matter. That much I grant to Madame

with all good will."



Admirably restraining herself, Madame Jouval replied in tones of

sympathy: "Monsieur receives my commiserations in his misfortunes."

Losing a large part of her restraint, she continued, her eyes

glittering: "Yet Monsieur's temperament clearly is over-sanguine. It is

not less than a miracle of absurdity that he imagined: that he, weighted

down with his infamous murderings of scores of innocent old women, had

even a chance the most meagre of realizing his ridiculous aspirations of

Madame Jolicoeur's hand!" Snatching up her bottle and making for the

door, without any restraint whatever she added: "Monsieur and his

aspirations are a tragedy of stupidity--and equally are abounding in all

the materials for a farce at the Palais de Cristal!"



Monsieur Brisson was cut off from opportunity to reply to this outburst

by Madame Jouval's abrupt departure. His loss of opportunity had its

advantages. An adequate reply to her discharge of such a volley of home

truths would have been difficult to frame.



* * * * *



In the Vic bakery, between Madame Vic and Monsieur Fromagin, a

discussion was in hand akin to that carried on between Monsieur Brisson

and Madame Jouval--but marked with a somewhat nearer approach to

accuracy in detail. Being sequent to the settlement of Monsieur

Fromagin's monthly bill--always a matter of nettling dispute--it

naturally tended to develop its own asperities.



"They say," observed Monsieur Fromagin, "that the cat--it was among his

many tricks--had the habitude to jump on Madame Jolicoeur's head when,

for that purpose, she covered it with a night-cap. The use of the cat's

claws on such a covering, and, also, her hair being very abundant--"



"Very abundant!" interjected Madame Vic; and added: "She, she is of a

richness to buy wigs by the scores!"



"It was his custom, I say," continued Monsieur Fromagin with insistence,

"to steady himself after his leap by using lightly his claws. His

illusion in regard to the bald head of the Notary, it would seem, led to

the catastrophe. Using his claws at first lightly, according to his

habit, he went on to use them with a truly savage energy--when he found

himself as on ice on that slippery eminence and verging to a fall."



"They say that his scalp was peeled away in strips and strings!" said

Madame Vic. "And all the while that woman and that reprobate of a Major

standing by in shrieks and roars of laughter--never raising a hand to

save him from the beast's ferocities! The poor man has my sympathies.

He, at least, in all his doings--I do not for a moment believe the story

that he caused the cat to be stolen--observed rigidly the convenances:

so recklessly shattered by Madame Jolicoeur in her most compromising

dinner with the Major alone!"



"But Madame forgets that their dinner was in celebration of their

betrothal--following Madame Jolicoeur's glad yielding, in just

gratitude, when the Major heroically had rescued her deserving cat from

the midst of its enemies and triumphantly had restored it to her arms."



"It is the man's part," responded Madame Vic, "to make the best of such

matters. In the eyes of all right-minded women her conduct has been of a

shamelessness from first to last: tossing and balancing the two of them

for months upon months; luring them, and countless others with them, to

her feet; declaring always that for her disgusting cat's sake she will

have none of them; and ending by pretending brazenly that for her cat's

sake she bestows herself--second-hand remnant that she is--on the

handsomest man for his age, concerning his character it is well to be

silent; that she could find for herself in all Marseille! On such

actions, on such a woman, Monsieur, the saints in heaven look down with

an agonized scorn!"



"Only those of the saints, Madame," said Monsieur Fromagin, warmly

taking up the cudgels for his best customer, "as in the matter of second

marriages, prior to their arrival in heaven, have had regrettable

experiences. Equally, I venture to assert, a like qualification applies

to a like attitude on earth. That Madame has her prejudices, incident to

her misfortunes, is known."



"That Monsieur has his brutalities, incident to his regrettable bad

breeding, also is known. His present offensiveness, however, passes all

limits. I request him to remove himself from my sight." Madame Vic spoke

with dignity.



Speaking with less dignity, but with conviction--as Monsieur Fromagin

left the bakery--she added: "Monsieur, effectively, is a camel! I bestow

upon him my disdain!"



THOMAS A. JANVIER.





Gipsy Monty's Friend facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback