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El Dorado

22.
Of That There Could Be No Question
Blakeney had more than one pied-a-terre in Paris, and never stayed longer than
two or three days in any of these. It was not difficult for a single man, be he
labourer or bourgeois, to obtain a night's lodging, even in these most troublous
times, and in any quarter of Paris, provided the rent--out of all proportion to the
comfort and accommodation given--was paid ungrudgingly and in advance.
Emigration and, above all, the enormous death-roll of the past eighteen months,
had emptied the apartment houses of the great city, and those who had rooms to
let were only too glad of a lodger, always providing they were not in danger of
being worried by the committees of their section.
The laws framed by these same committees now demanded that all keepers of
lodging or apartment houses should within twenty-four hours give notice at the
bureau of their individual sections of the advent of new lodgers, together with a
description of the personal appearance of such lodgers, and an indication of their
presumed civil status and occupation. But there was a margin of twenty-four
hours, which could on pressure be extended to forty-eight, and, therefore, any
one could obtain shelter for forty-eight hours, and have no questions asked,
provided he or she was willing to pay the exorbitant sum usually asked under the
circumstances.
Thus Blakeney had no difficulty in securing what lodgings he wanted when he
once more found himself inside Paris at somewhere about noon of that same
Monday.
The thought of Hastings and Tony speeding on towards Mantes with the royal
child safely held in Hastings' arms had kept his spirits buoyant and caused him
for a while to forget the terrible peril in which Armand St. Just's thoughtless
egoism had placed them both.
Blakeney was a man of abnormal physique and iron nerve, else he could never
have endured the fatigues of the past twenty-four hours, from the moment when
on the Sunday afternoon he began to play his part of furniture-remover at the
Temple, to that when at last on Monday at noon he succeeded in persuading the
sergeant at the Maillot gate that he was an honest stonemason residing at
Neuilly, who was come to Paris in search of work.
After that matters became more simple. Terribly foot-sore, though he would
never have admitted it, hungry and weary, he turned into an unpretentious
eating-house and ordered some dinner. The place when he entered was
occupied mostly by labourers and workmen, dressed very much as he was
himself, and quite as grimy as he had become after having driven about for hours
in a laundry-cart and in a coal-cart, and having walked twelve kilometres, some
of which he had covered whilst carrying a sleeping child in his arms.
Thus, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., the friend and companion of the Prince of
Wales, the most fastidious fop the salons of London and Bath had ever seen,
was in no way distinguishable outwardly from the tattered, half-starved, dirty, and
out-at-elbows products of this fraternising and equalising Republic.
 
 
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