Our mode of traveling was very simple: We went straight ahead, anywhere, and when we found a village, which from the distance looked sufficiently important, we began preparations for a triumphal entry. I dressed the dogs, and combed Dulcie's hair; stuck a plaster over Capi's eye when he was playing the part of an old grouchy man, and forced Pretty-Heart into his General's uniform. That was the most difficult thing I had to do, for the monkey, who knew well enough that this was a prelude to work for him, invented the oddest tricks to prevent me from dressing him. Then I was forced to call Capi to come to my aid, and between the two of us we finally managed to subdue him.
The company all dressed, Vitalis took his fife and we went in marching order into the village. If the number of people who trooped behind us was sufficient, we gave a performance, but if we had only a few stragglers, we did not think it worth our while to stop, so continued on our way. When we stayed several days in a town, Vitalis would let me go about alone if Capi was with me. He trusted me with Capi.
"You are traveling through France at the age when most boys are at school," he once said to me; "open your eyes, look and learn. When you see something that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask me questions. I have not always been what you see me now. I have learnt many other things."
"We will speak of that later. For the present listen to my advice, and when you grow up I hope you will think with a little gratitude of the poor musician of whom you were so afraid when he took you from your adopted mother. The change may not be bad for you after all."
I wondered what my master had been in the days gone by.
We tramped on until we came to the plains of Quercy, which were very flat and desolate. There was not a brook, pond, or river to be seen. In the middle of the plain we came to a small village called Bastide-Murat. We spent the night in a barn belonging to the inn.
"It was here in this village," said Vitalis, "and probably in this inn, that a man was born who led thousands of soldiers to battle and who, having commenced his life as a stable boy, afterwards became a king. His name was Murat. They called him a hero, and they named this village after him. I knew him and often talked with him."
"When he was a stable boy?"
"No," replied Vitalis, laughing, "when he was[Pg 69] a king. This is the first time I have been in this part of the country. I knew him in Naples, where he was king."
"You have known a king!"
The tone in which I said this must have been rather comical, for my master laughed heartily.
We were seated on a bench before the stable door, our backs against the wall, which, was still hot from the sun's rays. The locusts were chanting their monotonous song in a great sycamore which covered us with its branches. Over the tops of the houses the full moon, which had just appeared, rose gently in the heavens. The night seemed all the more beautiful because the day had been scorchingly hot.
"Do you want to go to bed?" asked Vitalis, "or would you like me to tell you the story of King Murat?"
"Oh, tell me the story!"
Then he told me the story of Joachim Murat; for hours we sat on the bench. As he talked, the pale light from the moon fell across him, and I listened in rapt attention, my eyes fixed on his face. I had not heard this story before. Who would have told me? Not Mother Barberin, surely! She did not know anything about it. She was born at Chavanon, and would probably die there. Her mind had never traveled farther than her eyes.
My master had seen a king, and this king had spoken to him! What was my master in his youth,[Pg 70] and how had he become what I saw him now in his old age?...
We had been tramping since morning. Vitalis had said that we should reach a village by night where we could sleep, but night had come, and I saw no signs of this village, no smoke in the distance to indicate that we were near a house. I could see nothing but a stretch of plains ahead of us. I was tired, and longed to go to sleep. Vitalis was tired also. He wanted to stop and rest by the roadside, but instead of sitting down beside him, I told him that I would climb a hill that was on the left of us and see if I could make out a village. I called Capi, but Capi also was tired, and turned a deaf ear to my call; this he usually did when he did not wish to obey me.
"Are you afraid?" asked Vitalis.
His question made me start off at once, alone.
Night had fallen. There was no moon, but the twinkling stars in the sky threw their light on a misty atmosphere. The various things around me seemed to take on a strange, weird form in the dim light. Wild furze grew in bushes beside some huge stones which, towering above me, seemed as though they turned to look at me. The higher I climbed, the thicker became the trees and shrubs, their tops passing over my head and interlacing. Sometimes I had to crawl through them to get by. Yet I was determined to get to the top of the hill. But, when at last I did, and gazed around, I could see no light anywhere; nothing but strange shadows and[Pg 71] forms, and great trees which seemed to hold out their branches to me, like arms ready to enfold me.
I listened to see if I could catch the bark of a dog, or the bellow of a cow, but all was silent. With my ear on the alert, scarcely breathing so as to hear better, I stood quiet for a moment. Then I began to tremble, the silence of this lonely, uncultivated country frightened me. Of what was I frightened? The silence probably ... the night ... anyhow, a nameless fear was creeping over me. My heart beat quickly, as though some danger was near. I glanced fearfully around me, and then in the distance I saw a great form moving amongst the trees. At the same time I could hear the rustling of branches. I tried to tell myself that it was fear that made me fancy I saw something unusual. Perhaps it was a shrub, a branch. But then, the branches were moving and there was not a breath of wind or a breeze that could shake them. They could not move unless swayed by the breeze or touched by some one.
No, this great, dark form that was coming towards me could not be a man—some kind of animal that I did not know, or an immense night bird, a gigantic spider, hovering over the tops of the trees. What was certain, this creature had legs of unusual length, which brought it along with amazing bounds. Seeing this, I quickly found my own legs, and rushed down the hill towards Vitalis.[Pg 72] But, strange to say, I made less haste going down than I had in climbing up. I threw myself into the thick of the thistles and brambles, scratching myself at every step. Scrambling out of a prickly bush I took a glance back. The animal was coming nearer! It was almost upon me!
Fortunately, I had reached the bottom of the hill and I could run quicker across the grass. Although I raced at the top of my speed, the Thing was gaining upon me. There was no need for me to look behind, I knew that it was just at the back of me. I could scarcely breathe. My race had almost exhausted me; my breath came in gasps. I made one final effort and fell sprawling at Vitalis' feet. I could only repeat two words:
"The beast! the beast!"
Above the loud barking of the dogs, I heard a hearty peal of laughter. At the same time my master put his hands on my shoulders and forced me to look round.
"You goose," he cried, still laughing, "look up and see it."
His laugh, more than his words, brought me to my senses. I opened one eye, then the other, and looked where he was pointing. The apparition, which had so frightened me, had stopped and was standing still in the road. At the sight of it again, I must confess, I began to shake, but I was with Vitalis and the dogs were beside me. I was not alone up there in the trees.... I looked up boldly and fixed my eyes on the Thing.
Was it an animal or a man? It had the body, the head, and arms like a man, but the shaggy skin which covered it, and the two long thin legs upon which it seemed to poise, looked as though they belonged to an animal.
Although the night was dark, I could see this, for the silhouette of this dark form stood out against the starry sky. I should have remained a long time undecided as to what it was, if my master had not spoken to it.
"Can you tell me if we are far from the village?" he asked, politely.
He was a man, then, if one could speak to him! What was my astonishment when the animal said that there were no houses near, but an inn to which he would take us. If he could talk, why did he have paws?
If I had had the courage, I would have gone up to him to see how his paws were made, but I was still somewhat afraid, so I picked up my bag and followed my master, without saying a word.
"You see now what scared you so," Vitalis said, laughing, as we went on our way.
"But I don't know what it is, yet. Are there giants in this part of the country, then?"
"Yes, when men are standing on stilts."
Then he explained to me that the Landais, so as to get over the marshy plains, and not sink in up to their hips, stride about the country on stilts.
What a goose I had been!
I had a pleasant remembrance of Pau, the beautiful winter resort where the wind scarcely ever blew. We stayed there the whole winter, for we were taking in quite a lot of money. Our audience consisted mostly of children, and they were never tired if we did give the same performance over and over again. They were children of the rich, mostly English and American. Fat little boys, with ruddy skins, and pretty little girls with soft eyes almost as beautiful as Dulcie's. It was from these children that I got a taste for candy, for they always came with their pockets stuffed with sweets which they divided between Pretty-Heart, the dogs, and myself. But when the spring approached our audience grew smaller. One by one, two by two, the little ones came to shake hands with Pretty-Heart, Capi, and Dulcie. They had come to say good-by. They were going away. So we also had to leave the beautiful winter resort and take up our wandering life again.
For a long time, I do not know how many days or weeks, we went through valleys, over hills, leaving behind the bluish top of the Pyrenees, which now looked like a mass of clouds.
Then one night we came to a great town with ugly red brick houses and with streets paved with little pointed stones, hard to the feet of travelers who had walked a dozen miles a day. My master told me that we were in Toulouse and that we should stay there for a long time. As usual, the first thing we did was to look about for a suitable place to hold the next day's performance. Suitable places were not lacking, especially near the Botanical Gardens, where there is a beautiful lawn shaded with big trees and a wide avenue leading to it. It was in one of the side walks that we gave our first performance.
A policeman stood by while we arranged our things. He seemed annoyed, either because he did not like dogs, or because he thought we had no business there; he tried to send us away. It would have been better if we had gone. We were not strong enough to hold out against the police, but my master did not think so. Although he was an old man, strolling about the country with his dogs, he was very proud. He considered that as he was not breaking the law, he should have police protection, so when the officer wanted to send us away, he refused to leave.
Vitalis was very polite; in fact he carried his Italian politeness to the extreme. One might have thought that he was addressing some high and mighty personage.
"The illustrious gentleman, who represents the police authority," he said, taking off his hat and[Pg 76] bowing low to the policeman, "can he show me an order emanating from the said authority, which states that it is forbidden for poor strolling players, like ourselves, to carry on their humble profession on a public square?"
The policeman replied that he would have no argument. We must obey.
"Certainly," replied Vitalis, "and I promise that I will do as you order as soon as you let me know by what authority you issue it."
That day the officer turned on his heels, and my master, with hat in hand, body bent low, smilingly bowed to the retreating form.
But the next day the representative of the law returned, and jumping over the ropes which inclosed our theater, he sprang into the middle of the performance.
"Muzzle those dogs," he said roughly to Vitalis.
"Muzzle my dogs!"
"It's an order of the law, you ought to know that!"
The spectators began to protest.
"Let him finish the show, cop!"
Vitalis then took off his felt hat, and with his plumes sweeping the ground, he made three stately bows to the officer.
"The illustrious gentleman representing the law, does he tell me that I must muzzle my actors?" he asked.
"Yes, and be quick about it!"
"Muzzle Capi, Zerbino, and Dulcie," cried Vitalis, addressing himself more to the audience than to the officer; "how can the great physician, Capi, known throughout the universe, prescribe a cure for Mr. Pretty-Heart, if the said physician wears a muzzle on the end of his nose?"
The children and parents began to laugh. Vitalis encouraged by the applause, continued:
"And how can the charming nurse, Dulcie, use her eloquence to persuade the patient to take the horrible medicine which is to relieve him of his pains if I am forced to carry out this cruel order of the law? I ask the audience if this is fair?"
The clapping of hands and shouts of laughter from the onlookers was answer enough. They cheered Vitalis and hooted the policeman and, above all, they were amused at the grimaces Pretty-Heart was making. He had taken his place behind the "illustrious gentleman who represented the law," and was making ridiculous grimaces behind his back. The officer crossed his arms, then uncrossed them and stuck his fists on his hips and threw back his head, so did the monkey. The onlookers screamed with laughter.
The officer turned round suddenly to see what amused them, and saw the monkey striking his own attitude to perfection. For some moments the monkey and the man stared at each other. It was a question which would lower his eyes first. The crowd yelled with delight.
"If your dogs are not muzzled to-morrow," cried[Pg 78] the policeman, angrily shaking his first, "you'll be arrested. That's all."
"Good-day, until to-morrow, Signor," said Vitalis, bowing, "until to-morrow...."
As the officer strode away, Vitalis stood with his body almost bent to the ground in mock respect.
I thought that he would buy some muzzles for the dogs, but he did nothing of the kind, and the evening passed without him even mentioning his quarrel with the policeman. I decided at last to broach the subject myself.
"If you don't want Capi to tear off his muzzle to-morrow during the performance," I said, "I think it would be a good thing to put it on him beforehand, and let him get used to it. We can teach him that he must keep it on."
"You think I am going to put one of those things on their little noses?"
"The officer is down on us."
"You are only a country boy. Like all peasants you are afraid of a policeman.
"Don't worry," he added, "I'll have matters arranged to-morrow so that the policeman can't have me arrested, and at the same time so that the dogs won't be uncomfortable. On the other hand, the public shall be amused a bit. This officer should be the means of bringing us some more money and, in the bargain, play the comic rôle in the piece that I shall prepare for him. Now, to-morrow, you are to go there alone with Pretty-Heart. You will arrange the ropes, and play a few pieces on your[Pg 79] harp, and when you have a large audience the officer will arrive on the scene. I will make my appearance with the dogs. Then the farce will commence."
I did not at all like going alone the next day, but I knew that my master must be obeyed.
As soon as I got to our usual place I roped off an inclosure and commenced to play. The people came from all parts and crowded outside the ropes. By now I had learnt to play the harp and sing very well. Amongst other songs, I had learnt a Neapolitan canzonetta which was always greatly applauded. But to-day I knew that the crowd had not come to pay tribute to my talent. All who had witnessed the dispute with the officer the day before were present, and had brought their friends with them. The police are not liked at Toulouse, and the public were curious to see how the old Italian would come out, and what significance was attached to his parting words, "Until to-morrow, Signor." Several of the spectators, seeing me alone with Pretty-Heart, interrupted my song to ask if the "old Italian" was coming.
I nodded. The policeman arrived. Pretty-Heart saw him first. He at once put his clenched hands on his hips and began trotting around in a ridiculously important manner. The crowd laughed at his antics and clapped their hands. The officer glared at me angrily.
How was it going to end? I was rather ill at ease. If Vitalis were there he could reply to the[Pg 80] officer. But I was alone. If he ordered me away, what should I say?
The policeman strode back and forth outside the ropes, and when he passed near me, he had a way of looking at me over his shoulder that did not reassure me.
Pretty-Heart did not understand the seriousness of the situation, so he gleefully strutted along inside the ropes, side by side with the officer, mimicking his every movement. As he passed me, he also looked at me over his shoulder in such a comical manner that the people laughed still louder.
I thought the matter had gone far enough, so I called Pretty-Heart, but he was in no mood to obey, and continued his walk, running and dodging me when I tried to catch him. I don't know how it happened, but the policeman, probably mad with rage, thought that I was encouraging the monkey, for he quickly jumped the ropes. In a moment he was upon me, and had knocked me to the ground with one blow. When I opened my eyes and got to my feet Vitalis, who had sprung from I don't know where, stood before me. He had just seized the policeman's wrist.
"I forbid you to strike that child," he cried, "what a cowardly thing to do!"
For some moments the two men looked at each other. The officer was purple with rage. My master was superb. He held his beautiful white head high; his face expressed indignation and command. His look was enough to make the [Pg 81]policeman sink into the earth, but he did nothing of the kind. He wrenched his hand free, seized my master by the collar and roughly pushed him before him. Vitalis stumbled and almost fell, but he drew himself up quickly and with his free hand struck the officer on the wrist. My master was a strong man, but still he was an old man, and the policeman was young and robust. I saw how a struggle would end. But there was no struggle.
"You come along with me," said the officer, "you're under arrest."
"Why did you strike that child?" demanded Vitalis.
"No talk. Follow me."
Vitalis did not reply, but turned round to me.
"Go back to the inn," he said, "and stay there with the dogs. I'll send word to you."
He had no chance to say more, for the officer dragged him off. So ended the performance that my poor master had wanted to make amusing. The dogs at first had followed their master, but I called them back, and accustomed to obey, they returned to me. I noticed that they were muzzled, but instead of their faces being inclosed in the usual dog-muzzle, they simply wore a pretty piece of silk fastened round their noses and tied under their chins. Capi, who was white, wore red; Zerbino, who was black, wore white, and Dulcie, who was gray, wore blue. My poor master had thus carried out the order of the law.
The public had quickly dispersed. A few stragglers remained to discuss what had happened.
"The old man was right."
"He was wrong."
"Why did the cop strike the boy? He did nothing to him; never said a word."
"Bad business. The old fellow will go to jail, for sure!"
I went back to the inn, depressed. I had grown very fond of my master, more and more every day. We lived the same life together from morning till night, and often from night to morning, when we had to sleep on the same bed of straw. No father could have shown more care for his child than he showed for me. He had taught me to read, to sing, and to write. During our long tramps he gave me lessons, first on one subject then on another. On very cold days he shared his coverings with me, on hot days he had always helped me carry the bags, and the various things which I was supposed to carry. And when we ate he never served me the worst piece, keeping the best for himself; on the contrary, he shared it equally, the good and the bad. It is true, he sometimes pulled my ears more roughly than I liked, but if I needed the correction, what of that? In a word, I loved him, and he loved me. For how long would they send him to prison? What should I do during that time? How should I live?
Vitalis was in the habit of carrying his money on him, and he had not had time to give me anything[Pg 83] before he was dragged off. I had only a few sous in my pocket. Would it be enough to buy food for Pretty-Heart, the dogs, and myself? I spent the next two days in agony, not daring to leave the inn. The monkey and the dogs were also very downcast. At last, on the third day, a man brought me a letter from him. Vitalis wrote me that on the following Saturday he was to be tried for resisting police authority, and for attacking an officer.
"I was wrong to get into a temper," he wrote. "This may cost me dearly, but it is too late now. Come to the court, you will learn a lesson." Then he gave me some advice, and sent his love to me, telling me to caress the animals for him.
While I was reading the letter, Capi, standing between my feet, put his nose to the paper, and sniffed it. I could see by the way he wagged his tail that he knew it had come from his master. This was the first time in three days that he had showed any signs of joy.
I got to the court early on Saturday morning. Many of the people who had witnessed the scene with the policeman were present. I was so scared at being in court, that I got behind a large stove and squeezed up as small as I could against the wall. Some men who had been arrested for robbery, others for fighting, were tried first. All said that they were innocent, but all were found guilty. At last Vitalis was brought in. He sat down on a bench between two policemen. What he said at[Pg 84] first, and what they asked him, I scarcely knew, my emotion was so great. I stared at Vitalis; he stood upright, his white head thrown back. He looked ashamed and worried. I looked at the judge.
"You gave blows to the officer who arrested you," said the judge.
"Not blows, your Honor," said Vitalis, "I only struck once. When I got to the place where we were to give our performance, I was just in time to see the officer fell a child to the ground with a blow, the little boy who is with me."
"The child is not yours."
"No, but I love him as my own son. When I saw him struck I lost my temper and seized the policeman's arm so that he could not strike again."
"You struck him?"
"When he laid his hands on me I thought of him only as a man, not as a police officer."
The officer then said what he had to say.
Vitalis' eyes roamed around the room. I knew that he was looking to see if I were there, so I decided to come out of my hiding place, and elbowing through the crowd of people, I came and stood beside him. His face lit up when he saw me. Presently, the trial ended. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment and a fine of one hundred francs. Two months' prison! The door through which Vitalis had entered was opened. Through my tears I saw him follow a policeman, and the door closed behind him. Two months' separation!
Where should I go?
When I returned to the inn with heavy heart and red eyes, the landlord was standing in the yard. I was going to pass him to get to my dogs, but he stopped me.
"Well, what about your master?" he asked.
"He is sentenced."
"Two months' prison."
"How much fine?"
"One hundred francs."
"Two months ... one hundred francs," he repeated two or three times.
I wanted to go on, but again he stopped me.
"What are you going to do these two months?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Oh, you don't know. You've got some money to live on and to buy food for your animals, I suppose."
"Then do you count on me keeping you?"
"No, sir, I don't count on any one."
That was true. I did not count upon any one.
"Your master already owes me a lot of money," he continued. "I can't board you for two months[Pg 86] without knowing if I shall be paid. You'll have to go."
"Go! Where shall I go, sir?"
"That's not my business. I'm nothing to you. Why should I keep you?"
For a moment I was dazed. The man was right. Why should he give me shelter?
"Come, take your dogs and monkey and get out! Of course, you must leave your master's bag with me. When he comes out of jail, he'll come here to get it, and then he can settle his account."
An idea came to me.
"As you know he will settle his bill then, can't you keep me until then, and add what I cost to it?"
"Ah, ah! Your master might be able to pay for two days' lodging, but two months! that's a different thing."
"I'll eat as little as you wish."
"And your dogs and monkey! No, be off! You'll pick up enough in the villages."
"But, sir, how will my master find me when he comes out of prison? He'll come to look for me here."
"All you've got to do is to come back on that day."
"And if he writes to me?"
"I'll keep the letter."
"But if I don't answer him?..."
"Oh, stop your talk. Hurry up and get out! I give you five minutes. If I find you here when I come out again I'll settle you."
I knew it was useless to plead with him. I had to "get out." I went to the stables to get the dogs and Pretty-Heart, then strapping my harp on my shoulder I left the inn.
I was in a hurry to get out of town, for my dogs were not muzzled. What should I say if I met a policeman? That I had no money? It was the truth; I had only eleven sous in my pocket. That was not enough to buy muzzles. They might arrest me. If Vitalis and I were both in prison, whatever would become of the animals? I felt the responsibility of my position.
As I walked along quickly the dogs looked up at me in a way I could not fail to understand. They were hungry. Pretty-Heart, whom I carried, pulled my ear from time to time to force me to look at him. Then he rubbed his stomach in a manner that was no less expressive than the looks the dogs cast at me. I also was hungry. We had had no breakfast. My eleven sous could not buy enough for dinner and supper, so we should have to be satisfied with one meal, which, if we took it in the middle of the day, would serve us for two.
I wandered along. I did not care where I went; it was all the same to me, for I did not know the country. The question of finding a place in which to sleep did not worry me; we could sleep in the open air.... But to eat!
We must have walked for about two hours before I dared to stop, and yet the dogs had looked up at me imploringly and Pretty-Heart had pulled[Pg 88] my ear and rubbed his stomach incessantly. At last I felt that I was far enough away from the town to have nothing to fear. I went into the first bakery that I came across. I asked for one pound and a half of bread.
"You'd do well to take a two-pound loaf," said the woman. "That's not too much for your menagerie. You must feed the poor dogs."
Oh, no, it was not too much for my menagerie, but it was too much for my purse. The bread was five sous a pound; two pounds would cost ten sous. I did not think it wise to be extravagant before knowing what I was going to do the next day. I told the woman in an offhand manner that one pound and a half was quite enough and politely asked her not to cut more. I left the shop with my bread clutched tightly in my arms. The dogs jumped joyfully around me. Pretty-Heart pulled my hair and chuckled with glee.
We did not go far. At the first tree that we saw I placed my harp against the trunk and sat down on the grass. The dogs sat opposite me, Capi in the middle, Dulcie at one side, Zerbino on the other. Pretty-Heart, who was not tired, stood up on the watch, ready to snatch the first piece that he could. To eke out the meal was a delicate matter. I cut the bread into five parts, as near the same size as possible, and distributed the slices. I gave each a piece in turn, as though I were dealing cards. Pretty-Heart, who required less food than we, fared better, for he was quite satisfied[Pg 89] while we were still famished. I took three pieces from his share and hid them in my bag to give the dogs later. Then, as there still remained a little piece, I broke it and we each had some; that was for dessert.
After the meal I felt that the moment had come for me to say a few words to my companions. Although I was their chief, I did not feel that I was too much above them not to wish them to take part in the grave situation in which we found ourselves.
Capi had probably guessed my intentions, for he sat with his big, intelligent eyes fixed on me.
"Yes, Capi," I said, "and you, Dulcie, Zerbino and Pretty-Heart, my friends, I've bad news for you. We shan't see our master for two whole months."
"Ouah," barked Capi.
"It's bad for him and it's also bad for us, for we depend on him for everything, and now he's gone, we haven't any money."
At the mention of the word money, which he perfectly understood, Capi rose on his hind paws and commenced to trot round as though he were collecting money from the "distinguished audience."
"I see you want to give a performance, Capi," I continued; "that's good advice, but should we make anything? That's the question. We have only three sous left, so you mustn't get hungry. You've all to be very obedient; that will make it[Pg 90] easier for us all. You must help me all you can, you dogs and Pretty-Heart. I want to feel that I can count on you."
I would not make so bold as to say that they understood all I said, but they got the general idea. They knew by our master's absence that something serious had happened, and they had expected an explanation from me. If they did not understand all that I said to them, they were at least satisfied that I had their welfare at heart, and they showed their satisfaction by the attention they gave me.
Attention? Yes, on the part of the dogs only. It was impossible for Pretty-Heart to keep still for long. He could not fix his mind upon one subject for more than a minute. During the first part of my discourse he had listened to me with the greatest interest, but before I had said twenty words, he had sprung up into a tree, the branches of which hung over our heads, and was now swinging himself from branch to branch. If Capi had insulted me in like manner, my pride would certainly have been hurt; but I was never astonished at anything Pretty-Heart might do. He was so empty-headed. But after all, it was quite natural that he should want to have a little fun. I admit that I would liked to have done the same. I would have gone up that tree with pleasure, but the importance and dignity of my present office did not permit me any such distractions.
After we had rested a while I gave the sign to[Pg 91] start. We had to find a place somewhere to lie down for the night and gain a few sous for our food for the next day. We walked for one hour, then came in sight of a village. I quickly dressed my troop, and in as good marching order as possible we made our entry. Unfortunately, we had no fife and we lacked Vitalis' fine, commanding presence. Like a drum major, he always attracted the eye. I had not the advantage of being tall, nor was I possessed of a wonderful head. Quite the reverse, I was small and thin and I must have worn a very anxious look. While marching I glanced to the right and to the left to see what effect we were producing. Very little, I regret to say. No one followed us. Upon reaching the small square upon which was a fountain shaded with trees, I took my harp and commenced to play a waltz. The music was gay, my fingers were light, but my heart was heavy.
I told Zerbino and Dulcie to waltz together. They obeyed me at once and commenced to whirl round, keeping time. But no one put themselves out to come and see us, and yet in the doorways I saw several women knitting and talking. I continued to play, Zerbino and Dulcie went on with their waltz. Perhaps if one decided to come over to us, a second would come, then more and more.
I played on and on, Zerbino and Dulcie went round and round, but the women in the doorways did not even look over at us. It was discouraging. But I was determined not to be discouraged. I[Pg 92] played with all my might, making the cords of my harp vibrate, almost to breaking them. Suddenly a little child, taking its first steps, trotted from his home and came towards us. No doubt the mother would follow him, and after the mother a friend would come, and we should have an audience, and then a little money.
I played more softly so as not to frighten the baby, and also to entice him to come nearer. With hands held out and swaying first on one foot, then on the other, he came on slowly. A few steps more and he would have reached us, but at that moment the mother looked round. She saw her baby at once. But instead of running after him as I had thought she would, she called to him, and the child obediently turned round and went back to her. Perhaps these people did not like dance music; it was quite possible.
I told Zerbino and Dulcie to lie down, and I began to sing my canzonetta. Never did I try so hard to please.
I had reached the end of the second line, when I saw a man in a round jacket, and I felt that he was coming towards me. At last! I tried to sing with even more fervor.
"Hello, what are you doing here, young rogue?" he cried.
I stopped, amazed at his words, and watched him coming nearer, with my mouth open.
"What are you doing here, I say?"
"Have you got permission to sing on a public square in our village?"
"Well, be off; if you don't I'll have you arrested."
"Be off, you little beggar."
I knew from my poor master's example what it would cost me if I went against the town authorities. I did not make him repeat his order; I hurried off.
Beggar! That was not fair. I had not begged; I had sung. In five minutes I had left behind me this inhospitable, but well guarded, village. My dogs followed me with their heads lowered, and their tails between their legs. They certainly knew that some bad luck had befallen us. Capi, from time to time, went ahead of us and turned round to look at me questioningly with his intelligent eyes. Any one else in his place would have questioned me, but Capi was too well bred to be indiscreet. I saw his lip tremble in the effort he made to keep back his protests.
When we were far enough away from the village, I signed to them to stop, and the three dogs made a circle round me, Capi in the middle, his eyes on mine.
"As we had no permission to play, they sent us away," I explained.
"Well, then?" asked Capi, with a wag of his head.
"So then we shall have to sleep in the open air and go without supper."
At the word "supper" there was a general bark. I showed them my three sous.
"You know that is all we have. If we spend those three sous to-night, we shall have nothing left for breakfast to-morrow. So, as we have had something to-day, it is better to save this." And I put my three sous back in my pocket.
Capi and Dulcie bent their heads resignedly, but Zerbino, who was not so good, and who besides was a gourmand, continued to growl. I looked at him severely.
"Capi, explain to Zerbino, he doesn't seem to understand," I said to faithful Capitano.
Capi at once tapped Zerbino with his paw. It seemed as though an argument was taking place between the two dogs. One may find the word argument too much, when applied to dogs, but animals certainly have a peculiar language of their kind. As to dogs, they not only know how to speak, they know how to read. Look at them with their noses in the air or, with lowered head, sniffing at the ground, smelling the bushes and stones. Suddenly they'll stop before a clump of grass, or a wall, and remain on the alert for a moment. We see nothing on the wall, but the dog reads all sorts of curious things written in mysterious letters which we do not understand.
What Capi said to Zerbino I did not hear, for if dogs can understand the language of men, men do[Pg 95] not understand their language. I only saw that Zerbino refused to listen to reason, and that he insisted that the three sous should be spent immediately. Capi got angry, and it was only when he showed his teeth that Zerbino, who was a bit of a coward, lapsed into silence. The word "silence" is also used advisedly. I mean by silence that he laid down.
The weather was beautiful, so that to sleep in the open air was not a serious matter. The only thing was to keep out of the way of the wolves, if there were any in this part of the country.
We walked straight ahead on the white road until we found a place. We had reached a wood. Here and there were great blocks of granite. The place was very mournful and lonely, but there was no better, and I thought that we might find shelter from the damp night air amongst the granite. When I say "we," I mean Pretty-Heart and myself, for the dogs would not catch cold sleeping out of doors. I had to be careful of myself, for I knew how heavy was my responsibility. What would become of us all if I fell ill, and what would become of me if I had Pretty-Heart to nurse?
We found a sort of grotto between the stones, strewn with dried leaves. This was very nice. All that was lacking was something to eat. I tried not to think that we were hungry. Does not the proverb say, "He who sleeps, eats."
Before lying down I told Capi that I relied upon him to keep watch, and the faithful dog, instead of[Pg 96] sleeping with us on the pine leaves, laid down like a sentinel at the entrance of our quarters. I could sleep in peace, for I knew that none would come near without me being warned by Capi. Yet, although, at rest on this point, I could not sleep at once. Pretty-Heart was asleep beside me, wrapped up in my coat; Zerbino and Dulcie were stretched at my feet. But my anxiety was greater than my fatigue.
This first day had been bad; what would the next day be? I was hungry and thirsty, and yet I only had three sous. How could I buy food for all if I did not earn something the next day? And the muzzles? And the permission to sing? Oh, what was to be done! Perhaps we should all die of hunger in the bushes. While turning over these questions in my mind, I looked up at the stars, which shone in the dark sky. There was not a breath of wind. Silence everywhere. Not the rustle of a leaf or the cry of a bird, nor the rumble of a cart on the road. As far as my eye could see, stretched space. How alone we were; how abandoned! The tears filled my eyes. Poor Mother Barberin! poor Vitalis.
I was lying on my stomach, crying into my hands, when suddenly I felt a breath pass through my hair. I turned over quickly, and a big soft tongue licked my wet cheek. It was Capi who had heard me crying and had come to comfort me as he had done on the first day of my wanderings. With my two hands I took him by the neck and kissed[Pg 97] him on his wet nose. He uttered two or three little mournful snorts, and it seemed to me that he was crying with me. I slept. When I awoke it was full day and Capi was sitting beside me, looking at me. The birds were singing in the trees. In the distance I could hear a church bell ringing the Angelus, the morning prayer. The sun was already high in the sky, throwing its bright rays down to comfort heart and body.
We started off, going in the direction of the village where we should surely find a baker: when one goes to bed without dinner or supper one is hungry early in the morning. I made up my mind to spend the three sous, and after that we would see what would happen.
Upon arriving in the village there was no need for me to ask where the baker lived; our noses guided us straight to the shop. My sense of smell was now as keen as that of my dogs. From the distance I sniffed the delicious odor of hot bread. We could not get much for three sous, when it costs five sous a pound. Each of us had but a little piece, so our breakfast was soon over.
We had to make money that day. I walked through the village to find a favorable place for a performance, and also to note the expressions of the people, to try and guess if they were enemies or friends. My intention was not to give the performance at once. It was too early, but after finding a place we would come back in the middle of the day and take a chance.
I was engrossed with this idea, when suddenly I heard some one shouting behind me. I turned round quickly and saw Zerbino racing towards me, followed by an old woman. It did not take me long to know what was the matter. Profiting by my preoccupation, Zerbino had run into a house and stolen a piece of meat. He was racing alone, carrying his booty in his jaws.
"Thief! thief!" cried the old woman; "catch him! Catch all of 'em!"
When I heard her say this, I felt that somehow I was guilty, or at least, that I was responsible for Zerbino's crime, so I began to run. What could I say to the old woman if she demanded the price of the stolen meat? How could I pay her? If we were arrested they would put us in prison. Seeing me flying down the road, Dulcie and Capi were not long following my example; they were at my heels, while Pretty-Heart, whom I carried on my shoulder, clung round my neck so as not to fall.
Some one else cried: "Stop thief!" and others joined in the chase. But we raced on. Fear gave us speed. I never saw Dulcie run so fast; her feet barely touched the ground. Down a side street and across a field we went, and soon we had outstripped our pursuers, but I did not stop running until I was quite out of breath. We had raced at least two miles. I turned round. No one was following us. Capi and Dulcie were still at my heels, Zerbino was in the distance. He had stopped probably to eat his piece of meat. I called him, but[Pg 99] he knew very well that he deserved a severe punishment, so instead of coming to me, he ran away as fast as he could. He was famished, that was why he had stolen the meat. But I could not accept this as an excuse. He had stolen. If I wanted to preserve discipline in my troop, the guilty one must be punished. If not, in the next village Dulcie would do the same, and then Capi would succumb to the temptation. I should have to punish Zerbino publicly. But in order to do that I should have to catch him, and that was not an easy thing to do.
I turned to Capi.
"Go and find Zerbino," I said gravely.
He started off at once to do what I told him, but it seemed to me that he went with less ardor than usual. From the look that he gave me, I saw that he would far rather champion Zerbino than be my envoy. I sat down to await his return with the prisoner. I was pleased to get a rest after our mad race. When we stopped running we had reached the bank of a canal with shady trees and fields on either side.
An hour passed. The dogs had not returned. I was beginning to feel anxious when at last Capi appeared alone, his head hanging down.
"Where is Zerbino?"
Capi laid down in a cowed attitude. I looked at him and noticed that one of his ears was bleeding. I knew what had happened. Zerbino had put up a fight. I felt that, although Capi had[Pg 100] obeyed my orders, he had considered that I was too severe and had let himself be beaten. I could not scold him. I could only wait until Zerbino chose to return. I knew that sooner or later he would feel sorry and would come back and take his punishment.
I stretched myself out under a tree, holding Pretty-Heart tight for fear he should take it into his head to join Zerbino. Dulcie and Capi slept at my feet. Time passed. Zerbino did not appear. At last I also dropped off to sleep.
Several hours had passed when I awoke. By the sun I could tell that it was getting late, but there was no need for the sun to tell me that. My stomach cried out that it was a long time since I had eaten that piece of bread. And I could tell from the looks of the two dogs and Pretty-Heart that they were famished. Capi and Dulcie fixed their eyes on me piteously; Pretty-Heart made grimaces. But still Zerbino had not come back. I called to him, I whistled, but in vain. Having well lunched he was probably digesting his meal, cuddled up in a bush.
The situation was becoming serious. If I left this spot, Zerbino perhaps would get lost, for he might not be able to find us; then if I stayed, there was no chance of me making a little money to buy something to eat. Our hunger became more acute. The dogs fixed their eyes on me imploringly, and Pretty-Heart rubbed his stomach and squealed angrily.
Still Zerbino did not return. Once more I sent Capi to look for the truant, but at the end of half an hour he came back alone. What was to be done?
Although Zerbino was guilty, and through his fault we were put into this terrible position, I could not forsake him. What would my master say if I did not take his three dogs back to him? And then, in spite of all, I loved Zerbino, the rogue! I decided to wait until evening, but it was impossible to remain inactive. If we were doing something I thought we might not feel the pangs of hunger so keenly. If I could invent something to distract us, we might, for the time being, forget that we were so famished. What could we do?
I pondered over the question. Then I remembered that Vitalis had told me that when a regiment was tired out by a long march, the band played the gayest airs so that the soldiers should forget their fatigue. If I played some gay pieces on my harp, perhaps we could forget our hunger. We were all so faint and sick, yet if I played something lively and made the two poor dogs dance with Pretty-Heart the time might pass quicker. I took my instrument, which I had placed up against a tree and, turning my back to the canal I put my animals in position and began to play a dance.
At first neither the dogs nor the monkey seemed disposed to dance. All they wanted was food. My heart ached as I watched their pitiful attitude.[Pg 102] But they must forget their hunger, poor little things! I played louder and quicker, then, little by little, the music produced its customary effect. They danced and I played on and on.
Suddenly I heard a clear voice, a child's voice, call out: "Bravo." The voice came from behind me. I turned round quickly.
A barge had stopped on the canal. The two horses which dragged the boat were standing on the opposite bank. It was a strange barge. I had never seen one like it. It was much shorter than the other boats on the canal, and the deck was fashioned like a beautiful veranda, covered with plants and foliage. I could see two people, a lady, who was still young, with a beautiful sad face, and a boy about my own age, who seemed to be lying down. It was evidently the little boy who had called out "Bravo!"
I was very surprised at seeing them. I lifted my hat to thank them for their applause.
"Are you playing for your own pleasure?" asked the lady, speaking French with a foreign accent.
"I am keeping the dogs in practice and also ... it diverts their attention."
The child said something. The lady bent over him.
"Will you play again?" she then asked, turning round to me.
Would I play? Play for an audience who had[Pg 103] arrived at such a moment! I did not wait to be asked twice.
"Would you like a dance or a little comedy?" I asked.
"Oh, a comedy," cried the child. But the lady said she preferred a dance.
"A dance is too short," said the boy.
"If the 'distinguished audience' wishes, after the dance, we will perform our different rôles."
This was one of my master's fine phrases. I tried to say it in the same grand manner as he. Upon second thought, I was not sorry that the lady did not wish for a comedy, for I don't see how I could have given a performance; not only was Zerbino absent, but I had none of the "stage fittings" with me.
I played the first bars of a waltz. Capi took Dulcie by the waist with his two paws and they whirled round, keeping good time. Then Pretty-Heart danced alone. Successively, we went through all our repertoire. We did not feel tired now. The poor little creatures knew that they would be repaid with a meal and they did their best. I also.
Then, suddenly, in the midst of a dance in which all were taking part, Zerbino came out from behind a bush, and as Capi and Dulcie and Pretty-Heart passed near him, he boldly took his place amongst them.
While playing and watching my actors, I glanced[Pg 104] from time to time at the little boy. He seemed to take great pleasure in what we were doing, but he did not move. He looked as though he was lying on a stretcher. The boat had drifted right to the edge of the bank, and now I could see the boy plainly. He had fair hair. His face was pale, so white that one could see the blue veins on his forehead. He had the drawn face of a sick child.
"How much do you charge for seats at your performance?" asked the lady.
"You pay according to the pleasure we have given you."
"Then, Mamma, you must pay a lot," said the child. He added something in a language that I did not understand.
"My son would like to see your actors nearer."
I made a sign to Capi. With delight, he sprang onto the boat.
"And the others!" cried the little boy.
Zerbino and Dulcie followed Capi's example.
"And the monkey!"
Pretty-Heart could have easily made the jump, but I was never sure of him. Once on board he might do some tricks that certainly would not be to the lady's taste.
"Is he spiteful?" she asked.
"No, madam, but he is not always obedient, and I am afraid that he will not behave himself."
"Well, bring him on yourself."
She signed to a man who stood near the rail. He came forward and threw a plank across to the[Pg 105] bank. With my harp on my shoulder and Pretty-Heart in my arms I stepped up the plank.
"The monkey! the monkey!" cried the little boy, whom the lady addressed as Arthur.
I went up to him and, while he stroked and petted Pretty-Heart, I watched him. He was strapped to a board.
"Have you a father, my child?" asked the lady.
"Yes, but I am alone just now."
"For two months."
"Two months! Oh, poor little boy. At your age how is it that you happen to be left all alone?"
"It has to be, madam."
"Does your father make you take him a sum of money at the end of two months? Is that it?"
"No, madam, he does not force me to do anything. If I can make enough to live with my animals, that is all."
"And do you manage to get enough?"
I hesitated before replying. I felt a kind of awe, a reverence for this beautiful lady. Yet she talked to me so kindly and her voice was so sweet, that I decided to tell her the truth. There was no reason why I should not. Then I told her how Vitalis and I had been parted, that he had gone to prison because he had defended me, and how since he had gone I had been unable to make any money.
While I was talking, Arthur was playing with the dogs, but he was listening to what I said.
"Then how hungry you all must be!" he cried.
At this word, which the animals well knew, the dogs began to bark and Pretty-Heart rubbed his stomach vigorously.
"Oh, Mamma!" cried Arthur.
The lady said a few words in a strange language to a woman, whose head I could see through a half open door. Almost immediately the woman appeared with some food.
"Sit down, my child," said the lady.
I did so at once. Putting my harp aside I quickly sat down in the chair at the table; the dogs grouped themselves around me. Pretty-Heart jumped on my knee.
"Do your dogs eat bread?" asked Arthur.
"Do they eat bread!"
I gave them a piece which they devoured ravenously.
"And the monkey?" said Arthur.
But there was no occasion to worry about Pretty-Heart, for while I was serving the dogs he had taken a piece of crust from a meat pie and was almost choking himself underneath the table. I helped myself to the pie and, if I did not choke like Pretty-Heart, I gobbled it up no less gluttonously than he.
"Poor, poor child!" said the lady.
Arthur said nothing, but he looked at us with wide open eyes, certainly amazed at our appetites, for we were all as famished as one another, even Zerbino, who should have been somewhat appeased by the meat that he had stolen.
"What would you have eaten to-night if you had not met us?" asked Arthur.
"I don't think we should have eaten at all."
"Perhaps to-morrow we should have had the luck to meet some one like we have to-day."
Arthur then turned to his mother. For some minutes they spoke together in a foreign language. He seemed to be asking for something which at first she seemed not quite willing to grant. Then, suddenly, the boy turned his head. His body did not move.
"Would you like to stay with us?" he asked.
I looked at him without replying; I was so taken back by the question.
"My son wants to know if you would like to stay with us?" repeated the lady.
"On this boat?"
"Yes, my little boy is ill and he is obliged to be strapped to this board. So that the days will pass more pleasantly for him, I take him about in this boat. While your master is in prison, if you like, you may stay here with us. Your dogs and your monkey can give a performance every day, and Arthur and I will be the audience. You can play your harp for us. You will be doing us a service and we, on our side, may be useful to you."
To live on a boat! What a kind lady. I did not know what to say. I took her hand and kissed it.
"Poor little boy!" she said, almost tenderly.
She had said she would like me to play my harp: this simple pleasure I would give her at once. I wanted to show how grateful I was. I took my instrument and, going to the end of the boat, I commenced to play softly. The lady put a little silver whistle to her lips and blew it.
I stopped playing, wondering why she had whistled. Was it to tell me that I was playing badly, or to ask me to stop? Arthur, who saw everything that passed around him, noticed my uneasiness.
"My mamma blew the whistle for the horses to go on," he said.
That was so; the barge, towed by the horses, glided over the soft waters which lapped gently against the keel; on either side were trees and behind us fell the oblique rays from the setting sun.
"Will you play?" asked Arthur.
He beckoned to his mother. She sat down beside him. He took her hand and kept it in his, and I played to them all the pieces that my master had taught me.