Nobody's Boy/Chapter XXIII

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 I HAD made some friends in the mine. Such terrible experiences, born in common, unites one. Uncle Gaspard and the professor, in particular, had grown very fond of me and, although the engineer had not shared our captivity, he had become attached to me like one is to a child that one has snatched from death. He invited me to his house. I had to tell his daughter all that had happened to us in the mine.

Every one wanted to keep me at Varses. The engineer told me that if I wished he would find me a position in the offices; Uncle Gaspard said he would get me a permanent job in the mine; he seemed to think it quite natural that I should return to the colliery; he himself was soon going down again with that indifference that men show who are accustomed to brave danger each day. I had no wish to go back. A mine was very interesting, and I was very pleased that I had seen one, but I had not the slightest desire to return. I preferred to have the sky over my head, even a sky full of snow. The open-air life suited me better, and so I told them. Every one was surprised, especially the professor. Carrory, when he met me, called me a "chicken."

During the time that they were all trying to persuade me to stay at Varses, Mattia became very preoccupied and thoughtful. I questioned him, but he always answered that nothing was the matter. It was not until I told him that we were starting off on our tramps in three days' time, that he admitted the cause of his sadness.

"Oh, I thought that you would stay and that you would leave me," he said.

I gave him a good slap, so as to teach him not to doubt me.

Mattia was quite able to look after himself now. While I was down in the mine he had earned eighteen francs. He was very proud when he handed me this large sum, for with the hundred and twenty-eight that we already had, this made a total of one hundred and forty-six francs. We only wanted four francs more to be able to buy the Prince's cow.

"Forward! March! Children!" With baggage strapped on our back we set forth on the road, with Capi barking and rolling in the dust for joy.

Mattia suggested that we get a little more money before buying the cow; the more money we had, the better the cow, and the better the cow, the more pleased Mother Barberin would be.

While tramping from Paris to Varses I had begun to give Mattia reading lessons and elementary music lessons. I continued these lessons now. Either I was not a good teacher, which was quite possible, or Mattia was not a good pupil, which also was quite possible; the lessons were not a success. Often I got angry and, shutting the book with a bang, told him that he was a thickhead.

"That's true," he said, smiling; "my head is only soft when it's banged. Garofoli found out that!"

How could one keep angry at this reply. I laughed and we went on with the lessons. But with music, from the beginning, he made astonishing progress. In the end, he so confused me with his questions, that I was obliged to confess that I could not teach him any more. This confession mortified me exceedingly. I had been a very proud professor, and it was humiliating for me not to be able to answer my pupil's questions. And he did not spare me, oh, no!

"I'd like to go and take one lesson from a real master," he said, "only just one, and I'll ask him all the questions that I want answered."

"Why didn't you take this lesson from a real master while I was in the mine?"

"Because I didn't want to take what he would charge out of your money."

I was hurt when Mattia had spoken thus of a _real_ master, but my absurd vanity could not hold out against his last words.

"You're a good boy," I said; "my money is your money; you earn it also, and more than I, very often. You can take as many lessons as you like, and I'll take them with you."

The master, the real master that we required, was not a villager, but an artiste, a great artiste, such as might be found only in important towns. Consulting our map we found that the next big town was Mendes.

It was already night when we reached Mendes and, as we were tired out, we decided that we could not take a lesson that evening. We asked the landlady of the inn where we could find a good music master. She said that she was very surprised that we asked such a question; surely, we knew Monsieur Espinassous!

"We've come from a distance," I said.

"You must have come from a very great distance, then?"

"From Italy," replied Mattia.

Then she was no longer astonished, and she admitted that, coming from so far then, we might not have heard of M. Espinassous.

"Is this professor very busy?" I asked, fearing that such a celebrated musician might not care to give just one lesson to two little urchins like ourselves.

"Oh, yes, I should say he is busy; how couldn't he be?"

"Do you think that he would receive us to-morrow morning?"

"Sure! He receives every one, when they have money in their pockets... naturally."

We understood that, of course.

Before going to sleep, we discussed all the questions that we intended asking the celebrated professor the next day. Mattia was quite elated at our luck in finding just the kind of musician we wanted.

Next morning we took our instruments, Mattia his violin and I my harp, and set out to find M. Espinassous. We did not take Capi, because we thought that it would not do to call on such a celebrated person with a dog. We tied him up in the inn stables. When we reached the house which our landlady indicated was the professor's, we thought that we must have made a mistake, for before the house two little brass plaques were swinging, which was certainly not the sign of a music professor. The place bore every appearance of a barber's shop. Turning to a man, who was passing, we asked him if he could direct us to M. Espinassous' house.

"There it is," he said, pointing to the barber's shop.

After all, why should not a professor live with a barber? We entered. The shop was partitioned off into two equal parts. On the right were brushes, combs, jars of cream, and barbers' chairs. On the left, hanging on the walls and on the shelves, were various instruments, violins, cornets, trombones, etc.

"Monsieur Espinassous?" inquired Mattia.

Fluttering like a bird, the dapper little man, who was in the act of shaving a man, replied: "I am Monsieur Espinassous."

I glanced at Mattia as much as to say that the barber musician was not the man we were looking for, that it would be wasting good money to consult him, but Mattia, instead of understanding my look, sat down in a chair with a deliberate air.

"Will you cut my hair after you have shaved that gentleman?" he asked.

"Certainly, young man, and I'll give you a shave also, if you like."

"Thanks," replied Mattia.

I was abashed at his assurance. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, to ask me to wait before getting annoyed.

When the man was shaved, M. Espinassous, with towel over his arm, prepared to cut Mattia's hair.

"Monsieur," said Mattia, while the barber tied the sheet round his neck, "my friend and I had an argument, and as we know that you are a celebrated musician, we thought that you would give us your advice and settle the matter for us."

"What is it, young man?"

Now I knew what Mattia was driving at! First of all, he wanted to see if this barber-musician was capable of replying to our questions; if so, he intended to get a music lesson at the price of a hair cut.

All the while Mattia was having his hair cut, he asked questions. The barber-musician was highly amused, but answered each question put to him quickly and with pleasure. When we were ready to leave he asked Mattia to play something on his violin. Mattia played a piece.

"And you don't know a note of music!" cried the barber, clapping his hands, and looking affectionately at Mattia as though he had known and loved him all his life. "It is wonderful!"

Mattia took a clarionette from amongst the instruments and played on it; then a cornet.

"Why, the youngster's a prodigy!" cried M. Espinassous in rapture; "if you will stay here with me I'll make you a great musician. In the mornings you shall learn to shave my customers and the rest of the day you shall study music. Don't think, because I'm a barber, I don't know music. One has to live!"

I looked at Mattia. What was he going to reply? Was I to lose my friend, my chum, my brother?

"Think for your own good, Mattia," I said, but my voice shook.

"Leave my friend?" he cried, linking his arm in mine; "that I never could, but thank you all the same, Monsieur."

M. Espinassous insisted, and told Mattia that later they would find the means to send him to the Conservatoire in Paris, because he would surely be a great musician!

"Leave Remi? never!"

"Well, then," replied the barber, sorrowfully, "let me give you a book and you can learn what you do not know from that." He took a book out of one of the drawers, entitled, "The Theory of Music." It was old and torn, but what did that matter? Taking a pen, he sat down and wrote on the first page:

"To a child who, when he becomes celebrated, will remember the barber of Mendes."

I don't know if there were any other professors of music at Mendes, but that was the only one we knew, and we never forgot him.