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IT MUST HAVE BEEN Bourke who first said that even if you knew your way about Paris you had to lose it in order to find it to Troyon's. But then Bourke was proud to be Irish.
Troyon's occupied a corner in a jungle of side-streets, well withdrawn from the bustle of the adjacent boulevards of St. Germain and St. Michel, and in its day was a restaurant famous with a fame jealously guarded by a select circle of patrons. Its cooking was the best in Paris, its cellar second to none, its rates ridiculously reasonable; yet Baedeker knew it not. And in the wisdom of the cognoscenti this was well: it had been a pity to loose upon so excellent an establishment the swarms of tourists that profaned every temple of gastronomy on the Rive Droite.
The building was of three storeys, painted a dingy drab and trimmed with dull green shutters. The restaurant occupied almost all of the street front of the ground floor, a blank, non-committal double doorway at one extreme of its plate-glass windows was seldom open and even more seldom noticed.
This doorway was squat and broad and closed the mouth of a wide, stone-walled passageway. In one of its two substantial wings of oak a smaller door had been cut for the convenience of Troyon's guests, who by this route gained the courtyard, a semi-roofed and shadowy place, cool on the hottest day. From the court a staircase, with an air of leading nowhere in particular, climbed lazily to the second storey and thereby justified its modest pretensions; for the two upper floors of Troyon's might have been plotted by a nightmare-ridden architect after witnessing one of the first of the Palais Royal farces.
Above stairs, a mediaeval maze of corridors long and short, complicated by many unexpected steps and staircases and turns and enigmatic doors, ran every-which-way and as a rule landed one in the wrong room, linking together, in all, some two-score bedchambers. There were no salons or reception-rooms, there was never a bath-room, there wasn't even running water aside from two hallway taps, one to each storey. The honoured guest and the exacting went to bed by lamplight: others put up with candlesticks: gas burned only in the corridors and the restaurant—asthmatic jets that, spluttering blue within globes obese, semi-opaque, and yellowish, went well with furnishings and decorations of the Second Empire to which years had lent a mellow and somehow rakish dinginess; since nothing was ever refurbished.
With such accommodations the guests of Troyon's were well content. They were not many, to begin with, and they were almost all middle-aged bourgeois, a caste that resents innovations. They took Troyon's as they found it: the rooms suited them admirably, and the tariff was modest. Why do anything to disturb the perennial peace of so discreet and confidential an establishment? One did much as one pleased there, providing one's bill was paid with tolerable regularity and the hand kept supple that operated the cordon in the small hours of the night. Papa Troyon came from a tribe of inn-keepers and was liberal-minded; while as for Madame his wife, she cared for nothing but pieces of gold....
To Troyon's on a wet winter night in the year 1893 came the child who as a man was to call himself Michael Lanyard.
He must have been four or five years old at that time: an age at which consciousness is just beginning to recognize its individuality and memory registers with capricious irregularity. He arrived at the hotel in a state of excitement involving an almost abnormal sensitiveness to impressions; but that was soon drowned deep in dreamless slumbers of healthy exhaustion; and when he came to look back through a haze of days, of which each had made its separate and imperative demand upon his budding emotions, he found his store of memories strangely dulled and disarticulate.
The earliest definite picture was that of himself, a small but vastly important figure, nursing a heavy heart in a dark corner of a fiacre. Beside him sat a man who swore fretfully into his moustache whenever the whimpering of the boy threatened to develop into honest bawls: a strange creature, with pockets full of candy and a way with little boys in public surly and domineering, in private timid and propitiatory. It was raining monotonously, with that melancholy persistence which is the genius of Parisian winters; and the paving of the interminable strange streets was as black glass shot with coloured lights. Some of the streets roared like famished beasts, others again were silent, if with a silence no less sinister. The rain made incessant crepitation on the roof of the fiacre, and the windows wept without respite. Within the cab a smell of mustiness contended feebly with the sickening reek of a cigar which the man was forever relighting and which as often turned cold between his teeth. Outside, unwearying hoofs were beating their deadly rhythm, cloppetty-clop....
Back of all this lurked something formlessly alluring, something sad and sweet and momentous, which belonged very personally to the child but which he could never realize. Memory crept blindly toward it over a sword-wide bridge that had no end. There had been (or the boy had dreamed it) a long, weariful journey by railroad, the sequel to one by boat more brief but wholly loathsome. Beyond this point memory failed though sick with yearning. And the child gave over his instinctive but rather inconsecutive efforts to retrace his history: his daily life at Troyon's furnished compelling and obliterating interests.
Madame saw to that.
It was Madame who took charge of him when the strange man dragged him crying from the cab, through a cold, damp place gloomy with shadows, and upstairs to a warm bright bedroom: a formidable body, this Madame, with cold eyes and many hairy moles, who made odd noises in her throat while she undressed the little boy with the man standing by, noises meant to sound compassionate and maternal but, to the child at least, hopelessly otherwise.
Then drowsiness stealing upon one over a pillow wet with tears ... oblivion....
And Madame it was who ruled with iron hand the strange new world to which the boy awakened.
The man was gone by morning, and the child never saw him again; but inasmuch as those about him understood no English and he no French, it was some time before he could grasp the false assurances of Madame that his father had gone on a journey but would presently return. The child knew positively that the man was not his father, but when he was able to make this correction the matter had faded into insignificance: life had become too painful to leave time or inclination for the adjustment of such minor and incidental questions as one's parentage.
The little boy soon learned to know himself as Marcel, which wasn't his name, and before long was unaware he had ever had another. As he grew older he passed as Marcel Troyon; but by then he had forgotten how to speak English.
A few days after his arrival the warm, bright bed-chamber was exchanged for a cold dark closet opening off Madame's boudoir, a cupboard furnished with a rickety cot and a broken chair, lacking any provision for heat or light, and ventilated solely by a transom over the door; and inasmuch as Madame shared the French horror of draughts and so kept her boudoir hermetically sealed nine months of the year, the transom didn't mend matters much. But that closet formed the boy's sole refuge, if a precarious one, through several years; there alone was he ever safe from kicks and cuffs and scoldings for faults beyond his comprehension; but he was never permitted a candle, and the darkness and loneliness made the place one of haunted terror to the sensitive and imaginative nature of a growing child.
He was, however, never insufficiently fed; and the luxury of forgetting misery in sleep could not well be denied him.
By day, until of age to go to school, he played apprehensively in the hallways with makeshift toys, a miserable, dejected little body with his heart in his mouth at every sudden footfall, very much in the way of femmes-de-chambre who had nothing in common with the warm-hearted, impulsive, pitiful serving women of fiction. They complained of him to Madame, and Madame came promptly to cuff him. He soon learned an almost uncanny cunning in the art of effacing himself, when she was imminent, to be as still as death and to move with the silence of a wraith. Not infrequently his huddled immobility in a shadowy corner escaped her notice as she passed. But it always exasperated her beyond measure to look up, when she fancied herself alone, and become aware of the wide-eyed, terrified stare of the transfixed boy....
That he was privileged to attend school at all was wholly due to a great fear that obsessed Madame of doing anything to invite the interest of the authorities. She was an honest woman, according to her lights, an honest wife, and kept an honest house; but she feared the gendarmerie more than the Wrath of God. And by ukase of Government a certain amount of education was compulsory. So Marcel learned among other things to read, and thereby took his first blind step toward salvation.
Reading being the one pastime which could be practiced without making a noise of any sort to attract undesirable attentions, the boy took to it in self-defence. But before long it had become his passion. He read, by stealth, everything that fell into his hands, a weird mélange of newspapers, illustrated Parisian weeklies, magazines, novels: cullings from the débris of guest-chambers.
Before Marcel was eleven he had read Les Misérables with intense appreciation.
His reading, however, was not long confined to works in the French language. Now and again some departing guest would leave an English novel in his room, and these Marcel treasured beyond all other books; they seemed to him, in a way, part of his birthright. Secretly he called himself English in those days, because he knew he wasn't French: that much, at least, he remembered. And he spent long hours poring over the strange words until; at length, they came to seem less strange in his eyes. And then some accident threw his way a small English-French dictionary.
He was able to read English before he could speak it.
Out of school hours a drudge and scullion, the associate of scullions and their immediate betters, drawn from that caste of loose tongues and looser morals which breeds servants for small hotels, Marcel at eleven (as nearly as his age can be computed) possessed a comprehension of life at once exact, exhaustive and appalling.
Perhaps it was fortunate that he lived without friendship. His concept of womanhood was incarnate in Madame Troyon; so he gave all the hotel women a wide berth.
The men-servants he suffered in silence when they would permit it; but his nature was so thoroughly disassociated from anything within their experience that they resented him: a circumstance which exposed him to a certain amount of baiting not unlike that which the village idiot receives at the hands of rustic boors—until Marcel learned to defend himself with a tongue which could distil vitriol from the vernacular, and with fists and feet as well. Thereafter he was left severely to himself and glad of it, since it furnished him with just so much more time for reading and dreaming over what he read.
By fifteen he had developed into a long, lank, loutish youth, with a face of extraordinary pallor, a sullen mouth, hot black eyes, and dark hair like a mane, so seldom was it trimmed. He looked considerably older than he was and the slightness of his body was deceptive, disguising a power of sinewy strength. More than this, he could care very handily for himself in a scrimmage: la savate had no secrets from him, and he had picked up tricks from the Apaches quite as effectual as any in the manual of jiu-jitsu. Paris he knew as you and I know the palms of our hands, and he could converse with the precision of the native-born in any one of the city's several odd argots.
To these accomplishments he added that of a thoroughly practised petty thief.
His duties were by day those of valet-de-chambre on the third floor; by night he acted as omnibus in the restaurant. For these services he received no pay and less consideration from his employers (who would have been horrified by the suggestion that they countenanced slavery) only his board and a bed in a room scarcely larger, if somewhat better ventilated, than the boudoir-closet from which he had long since been ousted. This room was on the ground floor, at the back of the house, and boasted a small window overlooking a narrow alley.
He was routed out before daylight, and his working day ended as a rule at ten in the evening—though when there were performances on at the Odéon, the restaurant remained open until an indeterminate hour for the accommodation of the supper trade.
Once back in his kennel, its door closed and bolted, Marcel was free to squirm out of the window and roam and range Paris at will. And it was thus that he came by most of his knowledge of the city.
But for the most part Marcel preferred to lie abed and read himself half-blind by the light of purloined candle-ends. Books he borrowed as of old from the rooms of guests or else pilfered from quai-side stalls and later sold to dealers in more distant quarters of the city. Now and again, when he needed some work not to be acquired save through outright purchase, the guests would pay further if unconscious tribute through the sly abstraction of small coins. Your true Parisian, however, keeps track of his money to the ultimate sou, an idiosyncrasy which obliged the boy to practise most of his peculations on the fugitive guest of foreign extraction.
In the number of these, perhaps the one best known to Troyon's was Bourke.
He was a quick, compact, dangerous little Irishman who had fallen into the habit of "resting" at Troyon's whenever a vacation from London seemed a prescription apt to prove wholesome for a gentleman of his kidney; which was rather frequently, arguing that Bourke's professional activities were fairly onerous.
Having received most of his education in Dublin University, Bourke spoke the purest English known, or could when so minded, while his facile Irish tongue had caught the trick of an accent which passed unchallenged on the Boulevards. He had an alert eye for pretty women, a heart as big as all out-doors, no scruples worth mentioning, a secret sorrow, and a pet superstition.
The colour of his hair, a clamorous red, was the spring of his secret sorrow. By that token he was a marked man. At irregular intervals he made frantic attempts to disguise it; but the only dye that would serve at all was a jet-black and looked like the devil in contrast with his high colouring. Moreover, before a week passed, the red would crop up again wherever the hair grew thin, lending him the appearance of a badly-singed pup.
His pet superstition was that, as long as he refrained from practising his profession in Paris, Paris would remain his impregnable Tower of Refuge. The world owed Bourke a living, or he so considered; and it must be allowed that he made collections on account with tolerable regularity and success; but Paris was tax-exempt as long as Paris offered him immunity from molestation.
Not only did Paris suit his tastes excellently, but there was no place, in Bourke's esteem, comparable with Troyon's for peace and quiet. Hence, the continuity of his patronage was never broken by trials of rival hostelries; and Troyon's was always expecting Bourke for the simple reason that he invariably arrived unexpectedly, with neither warning nor ostentation, to stop as long as he liked, whether a day or a week or a month, and depart in the same manner.
His daily routine, as Troyon's came to know it, varied but slightly: he breakfasted abed, about half after ten, lounged in his room or the café all day if the weather were bad, or strolled peacefully in the gardens of the Luxembourg if it were good, dined early and well but always alone, and shortly afterward departed by cab for some well-known bar on the Rive Droite; whence, it is to be presumed, he moved on to other resorts, for he never was home when the house was officially closed for the night, the hours of his return remaining a secret between himself and the concierge.
Excerpted from The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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