“A bit of prudence,” said MacLachan.
“Prudence!” I retorted scornfully. “The miser of the virtues. It may pay its own way through the world. But when did it ever take Happiness along for a jaunt?”
I was quite pleased with my little epigram until the Scot countered upon me with his observation about two young fools and an old one.
Oh, well! Likely enough. Most unwise, and rash and inexcusable, that headlong mating; and there will be a reckoning to pay. Babies, probably, and new needs and pressing anxieties, and Love will perhaps flutter at the window when Want shows his grim face at the door; and Wisdom will be justified of his forebodings, and yet—and yet—who am I, old and lonely and uncompanioned, yet once touched with the spheral music and the sacred fire, that I should subscribe to the dour orthodoxies of MacLachan and that ilk?
Years and years ago a bird flew in at my window, a bird of wonderful and flashing hues, and of lilting melodies. It came; it tarried—and I let the chill voice of Prudence overbear its music. It left me. But the song endures; the song endures, and all life has been the richer for its echoes. So let them hold and cherish their happiness, the two young fools.
As for the old one, would that some good fairy, possessed of the pigment and secret of perishable youth, might come down and paint his nose green!
Whenever Plooie went shuffling by my bench, I used to think of an old and melancholy song that my grandfather sang:
“And his skin was so thin
You could almost see his bones
As he ran, hobble—hobble—hobble
Over the stones.”
Before I could wholly recapture the quaint melody, my efforts would invariably be nullified by the raucous shriek of his trade which had forever fixed the nickname whereby Our Square knew Plooie:
“Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder!” He would then recapitulate in English, or rather that unreproducible dialect which was his substitute for it. “Oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella for mend?”
So he would pass on his way, shattering the peaceful air at half-minute intervals with his bilingual disharmonies. He was pallid, meagerly built, stoop-shouldered, bristly-haired, pock-marked, and stiff-gaited, with a face which would have been totally insignificant but for an obstinate chin and a pair of velvet-black, pathetically questioning eyes; and he was incurably an outlander. For five years he had lived among us, occupying a cubbyhole in Schepstein’s basement full of ribs, handles, crooks, patches, and springs, without appreciably improving his speech or his position. It was said that his name was Garin—nobody really knew or cared—and it was assumed from his speech that he was French.