Deplorably bored, he passed his hotel on the Quai and turned into the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, which led by the facade of the Palais de Justice. He had studied it carefully, and it did not, this dull afternoon in September, hold his interest long; he sauntered on, not feeling strong enough to light a cigarette. Decidedly, Rouen was become tiresome. He would go back to Paris by the evening train—or to Dieppe, thence to London, on the morning boat. Presently he found himself nearing the Porte de la Grosse Horloge. Through its opening poured vivacious working girls and men in blouse and cap, smoking, chattering, gesticulating. It was all very animated, and the wanderer tried to enjoy the picture. Then over against the crenellated wall, under the tablet bearing the quaint inscription picked out in choice Latin, Ferval saw a tall girl. Her bare head would not have marked her in a crowd where motley prevailed; it was her pose that attracted him,—above all, her mediaeval face, with its long, drooping nose which recalled some graven image of Jean Goujon. Her skin was tanned; her hair, flame-coloured, was confined by a classic fillet; her eyes, Oriental in fulness, were light blue—Ferval had crossed to the apparition and noted these things. She did not return his stare, but continued to gaze at the archway as if expecting some one. Young, robust, her very attitude suggested absolute health; yet her expression was so despairing, her eyes so charged with misery, that involuntarily he felt in his pocket for money. And then he saw that in her hand she held a tambourine. She wore a faded uniform of the Salvation Army.
Suddenly an extraordinary noise was heard; music, but of such a peculiar and excruciating quality that the young man forgot his neighbour and wondered what new pain was in store for his already taut nerves. The shops emptied, children stopped their games, and the Quarter suspended its affairs to welcome the music. Ferval heard rapturous and mocking remarks. “Baki, Baki, the human orchestra!” cried one gossip to another. And the reverberating music swelled, multifarious and amazing as if a military band from piccolo to drum were about to descend the highway. A clatter and bang, a sweet droning and shrill scraping, and then an old man proudly limped through the gateway of the Great Clock. This was the conjurer, this white-haired fellow, who, with fife, cymbals, bells, concertinas,—he wore two strapped under either arm,—at times fiddler, made epileptic music as he quivered and danced, wriggled, and shook his venerable skull. The big drum was fastened to his back, upon its top were placed cymbals. On his head he wore a pavilion hung with bells that pealed when he twisted or nodded his long, yellow neck. He carried a weather-worn fiddle with a string or two missing, while a pipe that might have been a clarinet years before, now emitted but cackling tones from his thin lips, through which shone a few fanglike teeth.