The Extraordinary Adventures of Jacqueline/Chapter 1
ADVENTURES OF JACQUELINE
I-POM-POM VERSUS HENRI
BY GEORGE WESTON
WE are all favored by the Fates at times, but in the matter of Jacqueline the Fates not only smiled at me, but laughed aloud, and, laughing, called me "Brother."
I had left the train at Chatham Center, and was walking over to East Granby when I met her on the highway. She was preceded by a mustachioed and world-weary poodle, and followed, with even greater weariness, by a flaming-red rooster, and the moment I saw her I knew that I must either speak or die.
"Pardon me—" I began.
"M'sieur," she said, with an awful show of dignity for one so young, "it is not permit' to me to speak to stranger young gentlemen."
"She's French," I thought, with a deduction worthy of Dr. Watson; "eastern Connecticut's full of them. But, Mademoiselle—" I began again.
"Nor am I mademoiselle," she objected for the second time. "M'sieur—what you call it?—sings wizout his music. You know? I am Mees—Mees Harris."
"Then there was such a person, after all," I thought, with growing astonishment, and for the third time I essayed to speak. "Miss Harris," I said, "I spoke to you because I may have lost my way. Can you tell me if I'm far from East Granby?"
She had been studying me with grave attention,—her reference to my sight-singing had been made in all seriousness,—and the poodle, on one side of her, mustachioed and wise-appearing beyond belief, and the tired, but fiery-red, rooster, on the other side of her, temporarily resting himself on one leg, had been studying me even more gravely yet. It seemed to be the consensus of their joint scrutiny that such a question as I had propounded might be answered with every deference to the proprieties.
"M'sieur will find East Granby," she said, "direc'ly over the hill."
"Directly over the hill," I repeated. "And can you tell me where Mrs. Depuis lives?"
"But Mme. Depuis is my aunt!" cried the girl in some excitement. "It is the house near the lake, with six—six—what you call them?—six large popular-trees in front. You know?"
I knew I could n't miss six trees like those, but suddenly Miss Harris showed unmistakable signs that her excitement had culminated in a thrill.
"M'sieur,"she earnestly exclaimed, "surely it cannot be possible that you are Meester Norman who wrote my aunt about boarding at her house for the summer?"
"I am the very one. And if an impostor has appeared upon the—"
"But, M'sieur," she continued to object,—and, oh, she objected most earnestly!—"Meester Norman is a much older man than it is possible for you to be, or my Aunt Gabrielle would never have written him to come and be surveyed. For did not I myself see his letter? And did he not write, 'I have been recommend' by my grandson to see if you would not take a summer boarder?' Yes, M'sieur! The ver' words which I myself peruse'. So, what, then?"
"It is," I said after a pause of reflection, "the fault of my writing. I remember writing now, 'I have been recommended by Mr. Grandon— ' "
Miss Harris laughed. Never in all my life had I heard anything half so enchanting. But all at once this divine sound ceased.
"I surprise myself laughing," she said, brisk and businesslike in a moment. "Come, M'sieur. Enough for the moment. I will lead you to my aunt, for it is even there where I live. Pom-Pom!" she exclaimed. The poodle rose, and I could see, with a notation of pleasure, from the show which he made of his cuffs and the leonine tuft on the end of his tail, that he was a very proud dog at heart. "Henri!" she cried again. The rooster put down his other foot, and I perceived with undiminished joy that he wore a silver bangle round his ankle. Thus accompanied, I made my way, not without distinction, to the house where Jacqueline lived.
In the next few weeks I discovered many things, and a few of them might as well be noted here. Jacqueline's father, Welcome Harris, had been of the purest Connecticut stock, his first American ancestor having settled in Windham County before the seventeenth century was born. Jacqueline's mother, Louise Depuis, had been a French Canadian, with the accent on the French. They had both died when Jacqueline was a baby, and the child had been taken to France by her Aunt Gabrielle, whose life motto had been, "When a woman marries, her romance ceases and her history begins." And Aunt Gabrielle had steadfastly declined to become historical. From France they had lately returned to East Granby, probably the most bewildering mixture of Parisian Nutmegs—written with all respect and affection—that the world has ever seen.
It required an hour's interview with Jacqueline's aunt before she gave her permission for me to remain. Even then she made it brutally clear that she was at liberty to terminate the arrangement at any time without notice. Indeed, I fear that she would never have received me as a paying guest in any circumstances if chicken thieves had not recently been active in East Granby. Wherefore Mme; Depuis, asking first if I could shoot, showed me a chintz-covered room overlooking her chicken-house in the rear, to say nothing of a corner of the orchard and a flower-bed which looked like one of the illustrations of paradise.
"And M'sieur he can bang ze—what you call him?—ze œil-de-bœuf, ze eye of ze bull?" Madame demanded in a deep, cynical voice, making no bones at all about her z's or her suspicion of mankind.
"Whenever I draw a bead with my trusty rifle," I assured her, "it is 'Good night, Bull!' "
Even more grimly Madame fetched an old shot-gun, and indicated on the grass below an inverted jar which served some of her chicks as a drinking-fountain. "Now, M'sieur," she said, rising to an idiom, "you mus' give me ze cloth or return my four sous."
Resting the gun upon the window-sill, I had the melancholy satisfaction of blowing the jar to the traditional smithereens. Jacqueline shuddered, and looked very thoughtful.
"C'est bien! C'est bien!" cried Madame. Whereupon she gave me to understand that the room was mine upon the express condition which I have already mentioned. So as soon as I could manage it, I went down into the orchard in search of Jacqueline, and as soon as I saw her I knew that something extraordinary was in the wind.
Jacqueline was peeping through the trees at a summer-house which was almost concealed by a high box-hedge. When she caught sight of me, she placed her finger on her lips, and in silence she drew me away.
"Well," she said, seating herself in the shade of a grape-arbor, from which she could still continue to peep at the distant summer-house, "did Aunt Gaby break it to you with a shock?"
"Did Aunt Gabrielle break what to me?"
"How long you are to stay."
"I thought," I began, somewhat upon my dignity, "that I am to stay as long as it remains mutually satisfactory—"
"You are to stay," interrupted Jacqueline, with a trace of haughtiness in her manner, "as long as you do not make the love to me. There! As for me, it is the youngest of my cares; but because I would rather have you here than some elderly gentleman recommend' by his grandson, I have warn' you fairly. Here, Pom-Pom!"
The poodle came forward, and I could begin to see how useful a poodle can be for turning a conversation. He flung himself down at Jacqueline's feet and gave expression to such a remarkable series of sighs that for the time being I sat aghast, and looked at him in undisguised sympathy.
"Is he very old?" I asked.
"No," said Jacqueline, thoughtfully; "it is simply that he feels aversion to the li'l pig's tail."
"The little pig's tail?" I gasped.
"The li'l pig's tail," Jacqueline enlightened me, "he goes all day and does nothing; but as for Pom-Pom, Pom-Pom has been hunting."
"Hunting?" I cried, looking at Pom's curly black trimmings, which seemed to indicate anything except the rigors of the chase. "Did he catch anything?"
"Yes," whispered Jacqueline, nodding in excitement; "it's in the summer-house now." Again she turned the conversation. "Henri!" she called.
The red rooster, thus addressed, came slowly forward, and he, too, settled himself down to rest again as soon as he reached his mistress's side.
"What makes Henri so tired?" I asked, looking at that truly remarkable pet.
" 'Sh!" said Jacqueline, peeping over in alarm toward the summer-house. "Henri's been hunting, too."
"And did he catch anything?" I asked, my astonishment growing like the green bay-tree.
"Yes," cried Jacqueline, her eyes dancing, one might almost say, a sort of illusive bunny-hug; "it's in the summer-house with what Pom-Pom caught. Listen! Is she crying or laughing?"
We listened for nearly a minute, all strained attention; but beyond the noise of Pom-Pom's sighs we heard no noise. Whereupon, puzzled to distraction, I looked at Jacqueline, and pleaded:
"Mademoiselle, tell me, if you please!"
"Well," said Jacqueline, "it began this morning with Pom-Pom catching flies."
"Catching flies?" I complained, disappointed beyond measure at the smallness of Pom-Pom's game.
"Catching flies," said Jacqueline, not one whit abashed. "He was lying down, and the flies bother' him. So ever' once in a while he snap' and caught one. You know?"
She showed me, a ravishing pantomime, with her thumb and finger.
"And you took one of the flies away from Pom-Pom and put it in the summer-house?" I asked more gently.
"No, I did n' take one of the flies away from Pom-Pom, and I did n' put it in the summer-house," said Jacqueline, with spirit. "But Pom-Pom saw that Henri was watching him, and after that, ever' time Pom-Pom caught a fly, he look' at Henri as though to say: 'Voilà! Behold something which you could never do, poor image of a fowl! Heh!' "
"Pom-Pom did!" I muttered.
"Yes; and then he would catch another fly, and yawn, knowing all the time that he was—what you call it?—putting the mustard on Friend Henri's nose. Poor old Henri!" cried Jacqueline. At this, seeing that the tide of popular interest was sweeping past him, Pom-Pom sat up and begged. "Catch!" cried Jacqueline, throwing him a green grape. Pom-Pom caught the grape with Gallic ease, casting a patronizing look upon Henri as he did so, and although he pretended, as long as Henri watched him, that the grape was delicious beyond compare, I could n't help but notice that the poodle hastily dropped it on one side the moment the rooster's head was turned.
"Eh, bien," said Jacqueline, taking a full breath, "when Henri saw the poodle catching flies like that, he went off scolding in his throat and flapping his wings." Jacqueline made a querulously guttural sound and flapped her elbows to show me. "You know?" she said. "And almos' before he had disappear'," she continued, "he came r-r-r-r-running back to the house wiz a—wiz a—wiz a great big hoppergrass he had caught. And the way he show' off to Pom-Pom! Ah, yes, it was not Henri then who had the mustard on the nose."
"Poor old Pom-Pom!" I remarked. "How badly he must have felt!"
"Poor old Pom-Pom!" echoed Jacqueline. But when she threw the poodle another green grape, to cheer him up a little, Pom-Pom turned his head away with a beautiful magnanimity, as though to say, "I am not a selfish dog; let Friend Henri have the grape." Whereat Henri bore away the prize; but after he had chevied it and turned it over in no little disgust, he looked searchingly at Pom-Pom, as though saying, "What did you do with yours?"
"And the way Henri play' with that hoppergrass right in front of Pom-Pom! And the way he crow'!" continued Jacqueline. "Of course," she said in that reflective tone which I soon learned to associate with the teachings of Aunt Gabrielle, "ever' rooster likes to hear his own crow; but poor old Pom-Pom, who had only been catching flies, kep' looking more and more sheepish and—what you call it? Inexpensive, you know?—that at last he simply could n' stand it any longer. Out he went, breathing hard—"
"Breathing hard?" I exclaimed.
"Snorting," cried Jacqueline, in dramatic illustration—"snorting and wrinkling the nose!"
Subdued to silence then I could only stare at the stertorous and nose-wrinkling Pom-Pom, whose knowledgable look, as he seemed to shrug his shoulders, was a thing worth going far to see.
"Ah, that Pom-Pom!" said Jacqueline. "I watch' him. He trot' off down the street and round the corner, and the ver' next minute he came galloping back with a walking-stick he had caught! And when he brought it and drop' it in front of Henri, who had jus' finish' his hoppergrass, the poor ol' rooster he did n' know what to think."
"I should say not!"
"But ver', ver' soon," said Jacqueline, "Henri gave one long, thoughtful look at the walking-stick, and then he went out, swaggering, and I could see as plain as' ever'thing he was bound for the mischief."
"Bound for the mischief!" I muttered.
"And I was still watching him, when up comes Meester Packer, a nice ol' bachelor who lives round the corner, and he said, 'Excuse me, Mademoiselle, but I jus' laid my stick against a tree when your Pom-Pom come and run away with it.' So first I ask' him to call me 'Mees,' because I am—what you call them?—a Daughter of Revolutions, you know, and then I ask' him to sit in the summer-house a moment while I fetch his stick. And jus' as I turn' round, there was Henri running home with his new prize."
"Was it an umbrella?" I facetiously inquired.
"No, M'sieur; it was the maddes'-looking woman you ever saw."
"Henri's prize was?" I gasped.
"Yes,!' exclaimed Jacqueline, rounding her eyes.
"But—but—" I stammered, "how on earth was the rooster carrying her? Did he have her by the belt—or—or—or what?"
"He was n' carrying her," cried Jacqueline; "he did n't have to. She was running after him. And she was so mad that at firs' I could n' recognize her; but soon I saw it was Miss Daniels, who lives next the church. And the joke of it is, she was engage' to Meester Packer last New Year's, but they had—what you call it?—a falling off, you know, because Meester Packer did n' send her a valentine. She would n' speak to him. So Meester Packer got mad, and would n' speak to her, and she sent him back his ring. Oh, she had a mos' difficult time of it, and ever'body knows how it has sour' her."
"And so she was taking it out on poor Henri!" I indignantly complained.
"Still, I would n' break a heart about poor Henri," quoth Jacqueline, darkly. "But Miss Daniels ring the bell furiously, like a woman who had invent' gunpowder, and when I went to the door, she ask' me if I knew my rooster had been trying to kill her rooster—her prize Spanish rooster. So I told her how sorry I was, and how my pets had been hunting all morning, each one trying to measure the other's ears, and at last I said, 'Come and look in the summer-house and see what Pom-Pom caught!' "
"And did she go in?" I asked when Jacqueline paused.
"Of course she went in," said Jacqueline, loftily. "Tr-r-r-r-r-rippingly. Any woman would; she was curious to see."
"And did you go in with her?" I asked when Jacqueline paused again.
"Of course I did n' go in with her," said Jacqueline, more loftily than before. "I came away because Aunt Gabrielle had often said that if they could only be shut in the same room two minutes together, they would be married in less than a month."
"And did they stay in there two minutes together?"
"That is a reason why Aunt Gaby had you fire the gun," said Jacqueline, her eyes beginning to dance once more. "They have been in there t'ree hours and a half!"
There was a movement in the summer-house, and Miss Daniels came out, closely followed by the beaming Mr. Packer.
"Oh, there you are!" said Miss Daniels. "We 've been looking everywhere for you, have n't we, Jim?"
"Everywhere," exclaimed the beaming Mr. Packer. They joined us in the grape-arbor, where Miss Daniels patted Pom-Pom's head. Following Jacqueline's expressive glance, I saw an engagement-ring on the third finger of Miss Daniels's left hand.
"Well," said Miss Daniels, seating herself on one end of a bench beneath the arbor, "we must go now."
"Yes," said the beaming Mr. Packer, seating himself on the other end of the bench, "we must go now."
Jacqueline and I exchanged another glance and then we left them there.
"For," said Jacqueline, "I would rather not be where I'm wanted than be where I'm not." That was at half-past four. It is ten minutes to six now, and Miss Daniels and Mr. Packer are still in the grape-arbor. A minute ago Pom-Pom ran up the street as though engaged on a very important errand, while Henri watched him from the lawn with the air of a rooster who wishes a friend good luck.
"Hello!" I said, "where's Pom-Pom going now? Hunting again?"
"I would n' be a bit surprise'," exclaimed Jacqueline. And then in tones that trembled with hope and a fearful joy she added, "Of course I know it won't happen, M'sieur, just as well as ever'body, but would n' it be funny if Pom-Pom caught a minister this time, and carried him into the grape-arbor!"