The Extraordinary Adventures of Jacqueline/Chapter 2
ADVENTURES OF JACQUELINE
II-THE TRIUMPH OF TRISTAM
BY GEORGE WESTON
JACQUELINE was wearing that morning (for my sins) a filmy pink dress like the smile of a rainbow. But as for Aunt Gabrielle, Aunt Gabrielle sat at the head of the table like the concomitant thunder-cloud, draped in sobriety, and ominous beyond words.
"She repents already of her contrac'," whispered Jacqueline when her aunt was called into the kitchen. "M'sieur mus' take a mos' exquisite care!"
It was kind of Jacqueline to give me her warning, but the smile with which she accompanied it was a cruelty hard to bear; for Aunt Gabrielle had grudgingly consented that I could be her summer boarder only as long as I refrained from everything that looked like making love to Jacqueline.
Wherefore breakfast became a Procrustean affair. If I tried to appear unaware of the charms of Jacqueline, I could see that Mme. Depuis suspected a conspiracy; while if I allowed myself to look at Jacqueline one second too long, Mme. Depuis became more and more persuaded that a grand passion had already set in, and was growing grander every moment.
In such wise we broke our fast on coffee and rolls, which stood for Paris, France, and on codfish cakes, which typified East Granby, Connecticut, and when at last Mme. Depuis announced that she was obliged to drive nine miles to visit her sister, who had been taken suddenly ill, there followed one of the most sprightly, staccato, and yet pleasing duets which was ever set to music in the French tongue. Jacqueline sang the soprano, while Aunt Gabrielle rendered a spirited bass.
"She want' me to 'company her," reported Jacqueline, after Mme. Depuis had departed, hoarsely eloquent still; "but how can I depart when I expec' my Uncle Will from Hartford? Can my Uncle Will be entertain' kitchenly by Marie?"
"To say nothing of leaving me here all alone," I objected.
"Oh, you, la! la!" laughed Jacqueline. "It is you who are—what you call it?—the bone of attention. But come, M'sieur. Now that Mose has gone to drive Aunt Gaby, you can play Rebecca of ze fountain."
She led me outside, where she was immediately rushed upon by Pom-Pom, her tufted and gifted poodle, and by Henri, her flaming red rooster, with the bangle on his leg, and after these intelligent pets had seen me burdened with two water-pails, Pom-Pom galloped toward the orchard, with Henri scuttling after him in hot pursuit.
"They always like to be at hand 'when Tristam get' his break-the-fast," said Jacqueline, dancing down the kitchen steps with a plate in her hand.
Proud of my perspicacity, I imagined Tristam as an old gardener, probably French Canadian, and even adorned, perhaps, with a smock and wooden shoes.
"He did not nourish so well when he firs' came," said Jacqueline; "but now is nearly full grown, his appetite leave' nothing to grieve about."
Hastily I reconstructed my idea of Tristam. I pictured him as a young man, with a dirty face and large hands, who looked after the garden and made himself useful about the house.
"You know, I often feel an envy," Jacqueline confided, as we walked through the orchard, "at his nice cool swim ever' morning before he has his break-the-fast."
"At least," I hurriedly amended my picture, "Tristam is clean."
"But in ze winter-time, when he lie under ze ice—Brrh!"
Whereupon my mental image of Tristam fell into the traditional flinders, and, dumfounded, I might have stared at Jacqueline for the next ten minutes if it had not been for the strange behavior of Pom-Pom and Henri. They had reached a slight depression in the orchard, and were both staring down into the ground.
"Oh-ho!" I cried, in sudden enlightenment, "Then Tristam is digging a well, is he?"
"Digging it? Ah, no, M'sieur; Tristam he is like ze Ding-Dong Puss—he is in ze well."
The well proved to be a spring, confined by half of a hogshead set even with the top of the ground. In the side of the hogshead, about a foot below the surface of the water, a circular piece of glass was suspended on two nails. On the bottom of the spring were a wooden ball and two enormous sea-shells. Driven into the sandy bed was a vertical length of broom-handle the top of which rose above the water and was ornamented with a short strap of sleigh-bells. And in these admirably furnished quarters I beheld the most lordly young trout which it has ever been my good fortune to contemplate.
"Bonjour, Tristam!" cried Jacqueline.
Seeing her, or hearing her, the trout rose until his nose formed a quivery ridge upon the surface of the spring.
"Catch!" cried Jacqueline, throwing him a bit of bread.
There was sudden rippling of the water, and the next moment Tristam was munching his bread and wagging his tail for more. Then Pom-Pom caught a piece of toast, which he bolted with a shrug of his shoulders, while Tristam and Henri watched him with unconcealed disapproval. Then Henri got a bit of meat, which he gobbled with ostentatious and apoplectic joy, while Pom-Pom and Tristam nearly shed tears of covetousness. And all the time Jacqueline was joyously telling me about the life and duties of Tristam of the Spring.
"One morning in Paris," I learned, "Aunt Gaby go' to turn ze faucet; but ze water, you know, it appear' not! So Aunt Gaby took a hair-pin an', voilà! Tristam enter wiz a splash, an' start to swim around ze cafetière!"
"Tristam did!" I muttered, looking at that finny exile with a new respect.
"Yes," exclaimed Jacqueline, throwing him another bit of bread, which he acknowledged with an air of great gallantry; "but, oh, he was so small,—what you call a minnie,—and Aunt Gaby kep' him to nag ze landlord, to confound him wiz chagrin, to take his breath away, and—what you call it?—to astonish him into a filter!"
"Aunt Gaby did!" I muttered again, marveling at this hitherto unheard-of metamorphosis of a landlord.
"Yes," cried Jacqueline again. "She got her filter, too. Trust Aunt Gaby! Oh, It was a mos' famous scene! Some day perhaps she will tell you. An' she make ze landlord look so foolish that she conceive a ver' strong affection for li'l' Tristam, an' Tristam conceive a ver' strong affection for us both. So she decide' to raise him, ze gallant li'l' fellow!"
I stared at Tristam, who was blowing bubbles, feeling as though I were witnessing an act from one of Rostand's plays.
"An' so of course he grew," said Jacqueline, speaking like one who states an axiom; "for when Aunt Gaby has once make up her mind— An' las' winter when we return home to ze States United, we brought li'l' Tristam with us, and put him here to mind the spring."
"To mind the spring?" I weakly demanded.
"To mind the spring," repeated Jacqueline with spirit. "Does a fly fall in ze water? Ha! Ze gallant Tristam has him in-stant-a-neousment. Does a mosquito appear? Ha!" Jacqueline made a brisk, but delectable, pantomime with her lips to show me how Tristam proceeded in the matter of mosquitos. "Does a worm intrude?" Shuddering slightly, but proudly still, Jacqueline indicated the fate of the hapless worm.
"But what is the glass for?" I asked, with increasing respect.
"Ze silver has melted off ze back," confessed Jacqueline; "but once it was a looking-glass for Tristam to t'ink he had friends."
"And what are the shells for?"
"For Tristam to hear ze ocean roar."
"But what's the ball for?"
"For Tristam to play wiv, of course."
"And the stick and the bells?"
Jacqueline blushed a little.
"He rub' his back against ze stick," she said, "and zen—you know?—ze bells ring."
I was still regarding these ingenious domestic arrangements when Jacqueline's expected company drove up to the house. Whereupon I fastened the hammock between two apple-trees near Tristam's home, and it was there that Jacqueline found me late in the afternoon, reading a book, watching the apples grow, thinking—and this the most—of my young hostess, and vainly listening for the blissful tinkle of Tristam's chime of bells.
"Well," said Jacqueline, evidently referring to her company, "zey have gone, an' still Aunt Gabrielle returns not. I hope she gets back before it grows dark." Evidently referring again to her company, she added: "Zat was my Uncle Will Harris an' his wife. Uncle Will an' my poor papa fight side by side in ze Civil War. He call' me a li'l' French nutneg. What is zat—a nutneg?"
My reply, which I was somewhat carefully formulating with the view to flavoring it with the spice of wit, was interrupted by the approach of a large touring-car. The car came hesitating—one might almost say that it came stammering—along the road, and stopped in front of the house. On the driver's seat was a rosy-faced young man, apparently on the verge of temper, and by his side was a girlish figure, heavily veiled, but exceedingly straight of back.
"I say," shouted the young man, "can we get any gasolene around here?"
"The nearest depot for gasolene," I answered, Jacqueline prompting me, "is Windsor Locks."
At this, the rosy-faced young driver spoke humbly to the girl in the veils. What she told him in reply I cannot tell, but his countenance suddenly turned from the color of roses to a very rich tint of geraniums. He jumped out of the car, slammed the door behind him,—whereat Jacqueline's figure stiffened in sympathy with that exceedingly straight back in the car,—and started over the grass toward us. But on his way a better thought struck him. He went back to the car, opened the door, shut it gently ("Bon! bon!" murmured Jacqueline), and then for the second time hurried over to where we were sitting.
He had run out of gasolene, he told us, although at the garage they had distinctly assured him that the tank was full. It was important, imperative, that they should reach Litchfield in time for dinner. Was there no way in which he could get some gasolene and get it quickly?
Thus appealed to, Jacqueline remembered a farmer three miles away who had a car and a gasolene engine to saw his wood. A neighbor's boy was drafted to drive there at full speed. The rosy-faced young man hurried to the nearest telephone and, when he returned, Jacqueline and the straight-backed girl were sitting on the front veranda, very much interested in each other. At his approach, Jacqueline joined me around the corner of the veranda and left them together.
"You have seen her?" whispered Jacqueline. "She is pretty as pictures. But zat yo'ng man he had better keep his eye scrape'. I do not t'ink she love' him well enough yet zat he can quarrel wiv immunity. It is zeir firs' tiffy, an', she take' it ver', ver' hard."
As though in confirmation of Jacqueline's observation, we heard the girl's voice. "I shall never speak to you again as long as I live," she was saying.
"Ah-ha!" breathed Jacqueline, a tender look in her eyes. "She love' him, after all."
"It sounds so," I protested under my breath.
"Of course she does," whispered Jacqueline. "All lovers talk like zat. Maybe soon she 'll tell him zat she hate' him. Lees-ten!"
"I hate you!" the girl was saying to the rosy-faced young man.
"Didn' I tell you?" murmured Jacqueline. "Lees-ten. If you will fetch from ze well a pail of water, I will make some lemonade an' tea. Zey mus' be t'irsty, poor t'ings! An' when ze dust gets in ze wheels—you know?—'squeak! squeak!' "
I hurried to the spring through the gathering gloom, and upon my return Jacqueline was lighting an alcohol lamp on the sheltered side of the veranda. I carried the pail to her, and the moment Jacqueline looked into the water I knew what I had done.
"Mon Dieul Mon Dieu!" she cried fortissimo, "you have caught li'l' Tristam!" And in a flood of pity she bent over him. "Ah, you poor, poor boy! To bring you from your nice cool well into ze warm outside!"
Obviously this was too much for the straight-backed girl. She strolled around the corner of the veranda, all eyes to see, and a moment later she and Tristam were staring at each other through the water.
"Is n't he a darling!" exclaimed the straight-backed girl. "Did you say his name was Tristam?"
"Yes," said Jacqueline. "He has his apartment in ze well, an' zis is ze second time he has call' at ze house in a pail."
Whereupon the rosy-faced young man could n't stand it any longer, and he casually turned the corner of the veranda. Jacqueline caught my eye, and we went into the house together. "Tristam will make zem talk," she whispered, "an' zey will hold a reonion over his pail."
She led me into the front room, from where we basely peeped through the curtains. The girl had taken off her dust-coat. She was dressed in gauzy white, and her veils floated about her like a lavender-tinted cloud.
"Kitty," exclaimed the rosy- faced young man, rosier-faced than ever, "forgive me!"
He took a step toward her, and she took a step away.
"Kitty," he exclaimed again, "I'm awfully sorry!"
He took another step toward her, and she took another step away.
"Silly puss!" muttered Jacqueline. "Many a girl has died an ancient maiden because she did not know when to make it up."
"Kitty!" implored the young man. Again he took a step toward her, and again she retreated. Right behind her then was the little table upon which Jacqueline's alcohol lamp was burning. In the light breeze the girl's veils found the flame. The next moment there was a flash of fire, and then a muffled shriek of alarm. We rushed to the door, but when we reached them, the rosy-faced young man had dashed the pail of water over the girl's blazing dress, and she, with both her fires simultaneously extinguished, had fallen into his arms, and was holding him very tightly around the collar.
"Zere!" cried Jacqueline in subdued delight, after she had snatched up the wildly flopping Tristam, and we had run and slipped him back into the spring. "Didn' I tell you Tristam would do it? Ah, you 've no ideas what a gallant li'l' fellow he is."
"But you don't think he wanted to do it, do you?" I asked in renewed astonishment, watching Tristam vigorously swimming around in the cool depths below.
"Of course he want' to do it," she joyfully maintained. "Didn' you see how happy he flop' himself jus' when I pick' him up? An' when zose two started kissing as we run away, didn' you notice how Tristam roll his eye an' wiggle-wag his jolie li'l' tail?"
Thus reduced to silence, I could only make a faint, weak gesture while I stared alternately at Tristam and at Jacqueline. From the bells on the top of Tristam's rubbing-post a melodious tinkle suddenly arose.
"Ha!" I said, relieved at having something tangible to work upon at last. "He's scratching his back!"
"Scratching his back!" scoffed Jacqueline, full of a tender scorn, and her eyes dancing with greater delight than ever, she looked into mine and softly hummed a bar from the Wedding March in "Lohengrin."
"You know? You know?" breathed Jacqueline. "He ring' zeir wedding-bells!"