The palace was grey and solid. Nurses, some in the white caps of their native province, others with the satin streamers of the nounou, marched sedately two by two, wheeling perambulators and talking. Brightly dressed children trundled hoops or whipped a stubborn top. As he watched them, Dr Porhoet’s lips broke into a smile, and it was so tender that his thin face, sallow from long exposure to subtropical suns, was transfigured. He no longer struck you merely as an insignificant little man with hollow cheeks and a thin grey beard; for the weariness of expression which was habitual to him vanished before the charming sympathy of his smile. His sunken eyes glittered with a kindly but ironic good-humour. Now passed a guard in the romantic cloak of a brigand in comic opera and a peaked cap like that of an alguacil. A group of telegraph boys in blue stood round a painter, who was making a sketch—notwithstanding half-frozen fingers. Here and there, in baggy corduroys, tight jackets, and wide-brimmed hats, strolled students who might have stepped from the page of Murger’s immortal romance. But the students now are uneasy with the fear of ridicule, and more often they walk in bowler hats and the neat coats of the boulevardier.
Dr Porhoet spoke English fluently, with scarcely a trace of foreign accent, but with an elaboration which suggested that he had learned the language as much from study of the English classics as from conversation.
‘And how is Miss Dauncey?’ he asked, turning to his friend.
Arthur Burdon smiled.
’Oh, I expect she’s all right. I’ve not seen her today, but I’m going to tea at the studio this afternoon, and we want you to dine with us at the Chien Noir.’
‘I shall be much pleased. But do you not wish to be by yourselves?’
’She met me at the station yesterday, and we dined together. We talked steadily from half past six till midnight.’
’Or, rather, she talked and you listened with the delighted attention of a happy lover.’
Arthur Burdon had just arrived in Paris. He was a surgeon on the staff of St Luke’s, and had come ostensibly to study the methods of the French operators; but his real object was certainly to see Margaret Dauncey. He was furnished with introductions from London surgeons of repute, and had already spent a morning at the Hotel Dieu, where the operator, warned that his visitor was a bold and skilful surgeon, whose reputation in England was already considerable, had sought to dazzle him by feats that savoured almost of legerdemain. Though the hint of charlatanry in the Frenchman’s methods had not escaped Arthur Burdon’s shrewd eyes, the audacious sureness of his hand had excited his enthusiasm. During luncheon he talked of nothing else, and Dr Porhoet, drawing upon his memory, recounted the more extraordinary operations that he had witnessed in Egypt.
He had known Arthur Burdon ever since he was born, and indeed had missed being present at his birth only because the Khedive Ismail had summoned him unexpectedly to Cairo. But the Levantine merchant who was Arthur’s father had been his most intimate friend, and it was with singular pleasure that Dr Porhoet saw the young man, on his advice, enter his own profession and achieve a distinction which himself had never won.