" Further, everybody will say what a conscientious artist you are; I don't mind asserting that your passion for accuracy is sweeping me to the Minotaur's lair against my will".
" Well, I will think about it," he said heavily.
He promised to write to me on the morrow.
There was no difficulty, about finding a summer resort forsaken enough inr October—the difficulty was to find one sufficiently animated to boast an hotel that remained open; and at last I authorised Verdeille to provide us with a furnished chalet. Of these he had reported an unlimited choice everywhere. The resort finally approved for our purpose contained thirty furnished chalets, and they were all to be let with alacrity until the following July. We took ours until February. I had extracted Beauregard's consent, and a fortnight later I hustled him into a cab. He looked as if he were being removed for a kill-or-cure operation, and I am sure he had half a mind to break his word even when we were in the train. On the journey I perused with pleasure Le Matin, and the current issue of VIllustration, in which the programme of our imaginary trip was set forth with a wealth of invention that did me credit. The deception, in fact, had been engineered so eloquently that at moments I had almost begun to fancy we were really bound for Crete.
We travelled to Dieppe, and then a cab crawled into a void with us—the motor service, we learnt, was discontinued for the next nine months. The chalet was a high, gaunt house called " Les Myosotis." A peasant, who represented the agence de location, stood at her door to wonder at our arrival. A primitive bonne, whom Verdeille had engaged to attend upon us, appeared to entertain doubts of our sanity. We entered the scene as messieurs " Poupard," and " Bachelet." It was my precaution to choose names beginning with a P and a B; I thought of the initials on our luggage, and our washing—the dramatist had overlooked that point.
Well, I shall not pretend that I was in for a rollicking time. I have a high esteem for Beauregard in the theatre, but Beauregard in a village was unspeakable. His lamentations linger with me yet. We had nothing to do, except to walk in the mud and regard the shutters of the twenty-nine other chalets. At seven o'clock in the evening, the distant lighthouse, and the lamp in our own salon afforded the only lights discoverable for miles round. That fat Parisian's melancholy, his reproaches, his attitudes of despair, defy description. Even when the weather improved, he would perceive no virtue in it. I exclaimed once, " What a beautiful sky to-night! " He replied, " It would be beautiful from the Place de la Concorde! " He had brought a cartload of novels—and before we had been in the place a week he was complaining that he had nothing to read.
" I shall die if I remain any longer," he declared. " I shall be buried here, I foresee it. The climate doesn't agree with me. Honestly, I feel very unwell. I ought to return to Paris, it is my duty —I have my wife to consider".
" You were never so well in your life," I remonstrated sharply. " Rubbish! there's no escape now, you've got to see it through. Foretaste the triumph of Omphale and be blithe".
" How much will a triumph be worth to me if I am dead ? " he wailed. " Mon Dieu ! what an existence, what demoniac desolation ! I shudder when I wake in the morning; the thought of the terrible day before me weighs me down. I have scarcely the energy to put on my socks. To wash my neck exhausts me. Is there nothing, nothing to be done for an hour's respite—is there no entertainment within reasonable distance ? "
" My beloved ' Bachelet,' " I said, " you forget; at a place of entertainment we might be recognised. Besides, there isn't any".
He threw up his arms. " It is like being in gaol, word of honour ! Who directed you to this fatal hole, where a postman collects letters only when he pleases—this desert, where Monday's Matin drifts by Tuesday night? By what perverse ingenuity did you contrive to find it? How long have we endured it now? "
" Ten days," I told him cheerfully. " Why, we have only got about eighty more ! "
He groaned. " It seems like centuries. My misgiving, of course, is that it will drive me to intemperance: such ordeals as this develop the vice. The natives themselves are staggered by our presence; they whisper about me as I pass. Children follow me up the roads, marvelling; if the population sufficed, I should be followed by crowds. I tell you, we are objects of suspicion; we are a local mystery; they conclude we must have ' done something.' Also the laundress here is a violent savage—she is not a laundress at all. I had six new collars when we came, six collars absolutely new from the box—and this devil has frayed them already. I would never have believed it could be accomplished in the time, but she has managed it. Six collars absolutely new from the box ! "
Don't imagine that he had finished! don't suppose that it was merely a bad mood. It was the kind of thing I had to bear from him daily, hourly—from the early coffee to the latest cigarette.
One afternoon, when I had gone for a stroll without him, a contretemps occurred. I had entered the outfitter's, and stationer's, and tobacconist's and provision merchant's—the miniature shop was the only one in the place that had not closed until the following summer—to obtain a pair of shoelaces. That the clod-hoppers cackled about our sojourn was a small matter to me, and I paid no more heed to the woman's curious stare to-day than usual. But I was to meet another stare !
As I waited for my change, a shabby young man came in to ask for a copy of Le Petit Journal, and a toy for five sous. Le Petit Journal, which I had just read, contained the latest details of my explorations in Crete, and instinctively I looked round. His eyes widened. I did not know him from Adam; but it was evident that he knew me, at least by sight! I turned hot and cold with confusion.