When my hour was finished and I in liberty to leave that horrible corner, I pushed out of the crowd and walked down the boulevard, my hat covering my sin, and went quickly. To be in love with my mystery, I thought, that was a strange happiness! It was enough. It was romance! To hear a voice which speaks two sentences of pity and silver is to have a chime of bells in the heart. But to have a shaven head is to be a monk! And to have a shaven head with a sign painted upon it is to be a pariah. Alas! I was a person whom the Parisians laughed at, not with!
Now that at last my martyrdom was concluded, I had some shuddering, as when one places in his mouth a morsel of unexpected flavour. I wondered where I had found the courage to bear it, and how I had resisted hurling myself into the river, though, as is known, that is no longer safe, for most of those who attempt it are at once rescued, arrested, fined, and imprisoned for throwing bodies into the Seine, which is forbidden.
At the theatre the frightful badge was removed from my head-top and I was given three hundred francs, the price of my shame, refusing an offer to repeat the performance during the following week. To imagine such a thing made me a choking in my throat, and I left the bureau in some sickness. This increased so much (as I approached the Madeleine, where I wished to mount an omnibus) that I entered a restaurant and drank a small glass of cognac. Then I called for writing-papers and wrote to the good Mother Superior and my dear little nieces at their convent. I enclosed two hundred and fifty francs, which sum I had fallen behind in my payments for their education and sustenance, and I felt a moment’s happiness that at least for a while I need not fear that my poor brother’s orphans might become objects of charity—a fear which, accompanied by my own hunger, had led me to become the joke of the boulevards.
Feeling rich with my remaining fifty francs, I ordered the waiter to bring me a goulasch and a carafe of blond beer, after the consummation of which I spent an hour in the reading of a newspaper. Can it be credited that the journal of my perusement was the one which may be called the North-American paper of the aristocracies of Europe? Also, it contains some names of the people of the United States at the hotels and elsewhere.
How eagerly I scanned those singular columns! Shall I confess to what purpose? I read the long lists of uncontinental names over and over, but I lingered not at all upon those like “Muriel,” “Hermione,” “Violet,” and “Sibyl,” nor over “Balthurst,” “Skeffington-Sligo,” and “Covering-Legge”; no, my search was for the Sadies and Mamies, the Thompsons, Van Dusens, and Bradys. In that lies my preposterous secret.