Septimus was sitting with Hegisippe Cruchot outside the little cafe of the iron tables painted yellow where first they had consorted.
“Mon ami,” said he, “you are one of the phenomena that make me believe in the bon Dieu. If you hadn’t dragged me from under the wheels of the cab, I should have been killed, and if I had been killed you wouldn’t have introduced me to your aunt who can cook, and what I should have done without your aunt heaven only knows. I owe you much.”
“Bah, mon vieux,” said Hegisippe, “what are you talking about? You owe me nothing.”
“I owe you three lives,” said Septimus.
Hegisippe Cruchot laughed and twirled his little brows mustache.
“If you think so much of it,” said he, “you can acquit your debt in full by offering me another absinthe to drink the health of the three.”
“Why, of course,” said Septimus.
Hegisippe, who was sitting next the door, twisted his head round and shouted his order to those within. It was a very modest little cafe; in fact it was not a cafe at all, but a Marchand des vins with a zinc counter inside, and a couple of iron tables outside on the pavement to convey the air of a terrasse. Septimus, with his genius for the inharmonious, drank tea; not as the elegant nowadays drink at Colombin’s or Rumpelmayer’s, but a dirty, gray liquid served with rum, according to the old French fashion, before five-o’cloquer became a verb in the language. When people ask for tea at a Marchand des vins, the teapot has to be hunted up from goodness knows where; and as for the tea...! Septimus, however, sipped the decoction of the dust of ages with his usual placidity. He had poured himself out a second cup and was emptying into it the remainder of the carafe of rum, so as to be ready for the toast as soon as Hegisippe had prepared his absinthe, when a familiar voice behind him caused him to start and drop the carafe itself into the teacup.
“Well, I’m blessed!” said the voice.
It was Clem Sypher, large, commanding, pink, and smiling. The sight of Septimus hobnobbing with a Zouave outside a humble wine merchant’s had drawn from him the exclamation of surprise. Septimus jumped to his feet.
“My dear fellow, how glad I am to see you. Won’t you sit down and join us? Have a drink.”
Sypher took off his gray Homburg hat for a moment, and wiped a damp forehead.
“Whew! How anybody can stay in Paris this weather unless they are obliged to is a mystery.”
“Why do you stay?” asked Septimus.
“I’m not staying. I’m passing through on my way to Switzerland to look after the Cure there. But I thought I’d look you up. I was on my way to you. I was in Nunsmere last week and took Wiggleswick by the throat and choked your address out of him. The Hotel Godet. It’s somewhere about here, isn’t it?”