A wide entrance led to the inner courtyard, where orange trees in green tubs, and trelliswork with shrivelled stems and leaves still adhering, suggested that it would be a pleasant summer lounge. Our hotel boasted a grand salon, which opened from the courtyard. It was an elaborately ornate room; but on a chilly December day even a plethora of embellishment cannot be trusted to raise by a single degree the temperature of the apartment it adorns, and the soul turns from a cold hearth, however radiant its garnish of artificial blossoms. A private parlour was scarcely necessary, for, with most French bedrooms, ours shared the composite nature of the accommodation known in a certain class of advertisement as “bed-sitting-room.” So it was that during these winter days we made ourselves at home in our chamber.
The shape of the room was a geometrical problem. The three windows each revealed different views, and the remainder of the walls curved amazingly. At first sight the furniture consisted mainly of draperies and looking-glass; for the room, though of ordinary dimensions, owned three large mirrors and nine pairs of curtains. A stately bed, endowed with a huge square down pillow, which served as quilt, stood in a corner. Two armchairs in brocaded velvet and a centre table were additions to the customary articles. A handsome timepiece and a quartette of begilt candelabra decked the white marble mantelpiece, and were duplicated in the large pier glass. The floor was of well-polished wood, a strip of bright-hued carpet before the bed, a second before the washstand, its only coverings. Need I say that the provision for ablutions was one basin and a liliputian ewer, and that there was not a fixed bath in the establishment?
It was a resting-place full of incongruities; but apart from, or perhaps because of, its oddities it had a cosy attractiveness. From the moment of our entrance we felt at home. I think the logs that purred and crackled on the hearth had much to do with its air of welcome. There is a sense of companionship about a wood fire that more enduring coal lacks. Like a delicate child, the very care it demands nurtures your affection. There was something delightfully foreign and picturesque to our town ideas in the heap of logs that Karl carried up in a great panier and piled at the side of the hearth. Even the little faggots of kindling wood, willow-knotted and with the dry copper-tinted leaves still clinging to the twigs, had a rustic charm.
These were pleasant moments when, ascending from the chill outer air, we found our chamber aglow with ruddy firelight that glinted in the mirrors and sparkled on the shining surface of the polished floor; when we drew our chairs up to the hearth, and, scorning the electric light, revelled in the beauty of the leaping and darting flames.
It was only in the salle-a-manger that we saw the other occupants of the hotel; and when we learned that several of them had lived en pension under the roof of the assiduous proprietor for periods varying from five to seven years, we felt ephemeral, mere creatures of a moment, and wholly unworthy of regard.