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Once there was an old hobo named Armand who wouldn't have lived anywhere but in Paris. So that is where he lived.
Everything that he owned could be pushed around in an old baby buggy without any hood, so he had no worries about rents or burglars. All the ragged clothing he owned was on his back, so he didn't need to bother with trunks or dry-cleaners.
It was easy for him to move from one hidey-hole to another so that is what he was doing one late morning in December. It was a cold day with the gray sky hanging on the very chimney pots of Paris. But Armand did not mind because he had a tickly feeling that something new and exciting was going to happen to him today.
He hummed a gay tune to himself as he pushed his buggy through the flower market at the side of Notre Dame cathedral.
The flowers reminded him that someday it would be spring even though it wasn't bad winter yet.
There were pots of fragile hyacinths and tulips crowded together on planks in front of the stalls. There were pink carnations and oleanders in great tin pails. Most of all there were bouquets of red-beaded holly, clumps of white-pearled mistletoe and little green fir trees because it would soon be Christmas.
Armand's keen eye caught sight of a pile of broken branches and wilted flowers swept away from one stall. "Anabel" was the name written over the stall, and Armand touched his black beret to the stocky woman whose blue work apron hung below her wooly coat.
"By your leave and in gratitude for your generosity, madame," he said to thewoman who was surely Anabel. He piled the broken branches on top of his belongings in the baby buggy. Then he fastidiously picked a sprig of dried holly from the litter and pulled it through his torn buttonhole. He wanted to look his best for whatever gay adventure was waiting for him this day.
The woman who must have been Anabel only frowned at Armand as he trundled his buggy toward the Rue de Corse. Past the ancient buildings he shuffled, his buggy headed for the far branch of the Seine River.
But as he entered the square in front of Notre Dame, a hand grasped his arm from behind.
"Your fortune, monsieur, " wheedled a musical voice. "You will meet with adventure today."
Armand let go of the handle of the buggy and whirled around to face a gypsy woman in a short fur coat and full, flowered skirt.
He gave her a gap-toothed smile. "You, Mireli," he greeted her. "Your people are back in Paris for the winter? "
The gypsy woman's dark face beamed under the blue scarf. "Doesn't one always spend the winters in Paris? " she asked, as if she were a woman of fashion. "But have you taken to the streets so early?"
Armand shrugged his shoulders under the long overcoat that almost reached to his ankles. "It's back under the bridge for me," he answered. "I've had enough of the crowded corners and tight alleys in the Place Maubert. And I'm tired of sorting rags for that junk dealer. I'm ready for that adventure you're promising me."
Mireli could understand. "That courtyard we rent seems like a cage after the freedom of the long, winding roads," she said, "but the men have found plenty of work for the winter. A city with as many restaurants as Paris has more than enough pots and pans to be mended. Of course the children can talk of nothing but the fields and woods of spring."
"I can't abide children, grumped Armand. "Starlings they are. Witless, twittering, little pests."
Mireli shook her finger at him. "You think you don't like children, " she said, "but it is only that you are afraid of them. You're afraid the sly little things will steal your heart if they find out you have one."
Armand grunted and took the handle of the buggy again. Mireli waved him away, swaying on bare feet squeezed into tarnished silver sandals. "If you change your mind about the bridge, you can come to live with us," she invited. "We're beyond the Halles where they're tearing down the buildings near the old Court of Miracles."
Armand tramped under the black, leafless trees and around the cathedral by the river side without even giving it a glance.
In the green park behind the flying buttresses, some street urchins were loitering. Two of them played at dueling while a third smaller one watched, munching a red apple. The swordsmen, holding out imaginary swords, circled each other. Closer and closer came the clenched fists, then the boys forgot their imaginary swords and began punching each other.
They stopped their play as Armand went by. "Look at the funny old tramp! " one cried to his playmates.
Armand looked around because he wanted to see the funny old tramp too. It must be that droll Louis with his tall black hat and baggy pants. Then he realized that he was the funny old tramp.
"Keep a civil tongue in your head, starling," he ordered. He fingered the holly in his lapel. "If you don't, I'll tell my friend Father Christmas about your rude manners. Then you'll get nothing but a bunch of sticks like these on my buggy."
The boys looked at him with awe. Father Christmas is the Santa Claus of France. He rides down from the north on his little gray donkey and leaves presents for good children.
The small boy held out his half-eaten apple. "Are you hungry, monsieur?" he asked. "Would you like the rest of this apple? "
But the biggest boy mockingly punched the air with his fist. "Pouf!" he scoffed. "There's no Father Christmas.