[Illustration: FELIX LOOKS VERY SEEDY AFTER HIS BIRTHDAY.]
The celebration of one of my birthdays was an event rescued from oblivion by du Maurier’s pencil. He illustrates our lively doings on that day and my appearance the next morning. “Felix’s mamma,” he says, “had worked a very pretty cap for Felix, and Felix had it on the morning after his birthday, and Felix found that though the cap was very pretty, it made him look very seedy.”
[Illustration: “RACHEL” AND FRIENDS CELEBRATE BOBTAIL’S BIRTHDAY.]
In the other drawing he gives striking likenesses of the friends assembled to celebrate the festive occasion. They had come together in the evening, much in the same spirit that had led them under my windows in the morning, with a brass band and an enormous bouquet of cabbages, carrots, and cauliflowers. There, on the left, is Van Lerius with his hands in his pockets, next to him du Maurier; then Heyermans, Bource, and all the other chums, and, though last not least, the proud bearer of the steaming punch-bowl. What a set of jolly good fellows! It is quite a pleasure to pore over the sketch and contemplate du Maurier’s phiz, expressing his unbounded capacity of enjoyment. I can see him taking points that fell flat with the other fellows. Quite a pleasure, too, to think of Huysmans’ big nose and Van Lerius’ bald head, of the tall and the short, of spindle shanks and chubby face.
Where are they all now? Some thirty-five years have elapsed, and the whirligig of time has been revolving with unfailing regularity, dropping us here and there, as caprice dictated, some to stand, some to fall. What has become of the threads of friendship, picked up at the studio or the cafe, perhaps whilst puzzling over the chess-board, or when harmonising in four-part song? Golden threads; some destined to be spun out and to become solidly intertwined; others to be hopelessly entangled or cruelly snapped asunder by the inexorable Fates. Where shall I find them now, those friends and boon companions of my Bohemian days? Here, there, and everywhere—perhaps nowhere! Some I see trotting briskly along the high-road of life, others dragging wearily through its tangled bypaths. Yet again others resting under a big, cold stone that bears an inscription and a couple of dates, fixed just above their heads.
I well remember a certain “barriere” that protected the level crossing just outside the Malines Station. It was but an ordinary piece of hinged timber, but we, that is, du Maurier and I, can never forget it; for, as we stood by its side we vowed that come what might, we would never travel along that line and past the old gate without recalling that summer evening and re-thinking the thoughts of our early days.
It was also there, one evening, that we adopted our never-to-be-forgotten aliases—Rag and Bobtail. We had chanced upon a chum of ours named Sprenk lounging across that old barriere, and some fortuitous circumstance having revealed the fact that his initials were T.A.G., we forthwith dubbed him Tag. Out of that very naturally grew the further development: Rag, Tag, and Bobtail.