“Oh! I do wish I hadn’t eaten that fruit,” she groaned when I offered her smelling-salts. “But then, you know, I was so hungry!”
In the train rapide a little later, Placidia, when arranging her wraps for the night journey, chanced, among the medley of her belongings, upon a missing boat-ticket whose absence at the proper time had threatened complications. She burst into good-humoured laughter at the discovery. “Why, here’s the ticket that man made all the fuss about. I really thought he wasn’t going to let me land till I found it. Now, I do wonder how it got among my rugs?”
We seemed to be awake all night, staring with wide, unseeing eyes out into the darkness. Yet the chill before dawn found us blinking sleepily at a blue-bloused porter who, throwing open the carriage door, curtly announced that we were in Paris.
Then followed a fruitless search for Placidia’s luggage, a hunt which was closed by Placidia recovering her registration ticket (with a fragment of candy adhering to it) from one of the multifarious pockets of her ulster, and finding that the luggage had been registered on to Marseilles. “Will they charge duty on tobacco?” she inquired blandly, as she watched the Customs examination of our things. “I’ve such a lot of cigars in my boxes.”
There was an Old-Man-of-the-Sea-like tenacity in Placidia’s smiling impuissance. She did not know one syllable of French. A new-born babe could not have revealed itself more utterly incompetent. I verily believe that, despite our haste, we would have ended by escorting Placidia across Paris, and ensconcing her in the Marseilles train, had not Providence intervened in the person of a kindly disposed polyglot traveller. So, leaving Placidia standing the picture of complacent fatuosity in the midst of a group consisting of this new champion and three porters, we sneaked away.
[Illustration: Treasure Trove]
Grey dawn was breaking as we drove towards St. Lazare Station, and the daily life of the city was well begun. Lights were twinkling in the dark interiors of the shops. Through the mysterious atmosphere figures loomed mistily, then vanished into the gloom. But we got no more than a vague impression of our surroundings. Throughout the interminable length of drive across the city, and the subsequent slow train journey, our thoughts were ever in advance.
The tardy winter daylight had scarcely come before we were jolting in a fiacre over the stony streets of Versailles. In the gutters, crones were eagerly rummaging among the dust heaps that awaited removal. In France no degradation attaches to open economies. Housewives on their way to fetch Gargantuan loaves or tiny bottles of milk for the matutinal cafe-au-lait cast searching glances as they passed, to see if among the rubbish something of use to them might not be lurking. And at one alluring mound an old gentleman of absurdly respectable exterior perfunctorily turned over the scraps with the point of his cane.