The Arrow of Gold
For this, properly speaking wonderful, reason I was the only one of the company who
could listen without constraint to the unbidden guest with that fine head of white hair, so
beautifully kept, so magnificently waved, so artistically arranged that respect could not be
felt for it any more than for a very expensive wig in the window of a hair-dresser. In fact,
I had an inclination to smile at it. This proves how unconstrained I felt. My mind was
perfectly at liberty; and so of all the eyes in that room mine was the only pair able to look
about in easy freedom. All the other listeners' eyes were cast down, including Mills' eyes,
but that I am sure was only because of his perfect and delicate sympathy. He could not
have been concerned otherwise.
The intruder devoured the cutlets - if they were cutlets. Notwithstanding my perfect
liberty of mind I was not aware of what we were eating. I have a notion that the lunch
was a mere show, except of course for the man with the white hair, who was really
hungry and who, besides, must have had the pleasant sense of dominating the situation.
He stooped over his plate and worked his jaw deliberately while his blue eyes rolled
incessantly; but as a matter of fact he never looked openly at any one of us. Whenever he
laid down his knife and fork he would throw himself back and start retailing in a light
tone some Parisian gossip about prominent people.
He talked first about a certain politician of mark. His "dear Rita" knew him. His costume
dated back to '48, he was made of wood and parchment and still swathed his neck in a
white cloth; and even his wife had never been seen in a low-necked dress. Not once in her
life. She was buttoned up to the chin like her husband. Well, that man had confessed to
him that when he was engaged in political controversy, not on a matter of principle but
on some special measure in debate, he felt ready to kill everybody.
He interrupted himself for a comment. "I am something like that myself. I believe it's a
purely professional feeling. Carry one's point whatever it is. Normally I couldn't kill a fly.
My sensibility is too acute for that. My heart is too tender also. Much too tender. I am a
Republican. I am a Red. As to all our present masters and governors, all those people you
are trying to turn round your little finger, they are all horrible Royalists in disguise. They
are plotting the ruin of all the institutions to which I am devoted. But I have never tried to
spoil your little game, Rita. After all, it's but a little game. You know very well that two
or three fearless articles, something in my style, you know, would soon put a stop to all
that underhand backing of your king. I am calling him king because I want to be polite to
you. He is an adventurer, a blood-thirsty, murderous adventurer, for me, and nothing else.
Look here, my dear child, what are you knocking yourself about for? For the sake of that
bandit? Allons donc! A pupil of Henry Allegre can have no illusions of that sort about
any man. And such a pupil, too! Ah, the good old days in the Pavilion! Don't think I
claim any particular intimacy. It was just enough to enable me to offer my services to
you, Rita, when our poor friend died. I found myself handy and so I came. It so happened
that I was the first. You remember, Rita? What made it possible for everybody to get on
with our poor dear Allegre was his complete, equable, and impartial contempt for all