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The Arrow of Gold

Chapter I.1
Certain streets have an atmosphere of their own, a sort of universal fame and the
particular affection of their citizens. One of such streets is the Cannebiere, and the jest:
"If Paris had a Cannebiere it would be a little Marseilles" is the jocular expression of
municipal pride. I, too, I have been under the spell. For me it has been a street leading
into the unknown.
There was a part of it where one could see as many as five big cafes in a resplendent row.
That evening I strolled into one of them. It was by no means full. It looked deserted, in
fact, festal and overlighted, but cheerful. The wonderful street was distinctly cold (it was
an evening of carnival), I was very idle, and I was feeling a little lonely. So I went in and
sat down.
The carnival time was drawing to an end. Everybody, high and low, was anxious to have
the last fling. Companies of masks with linked arms and whooping like red Indians swept
the streets in crazy rushes while gusts of cold mistral swayed the gas lights as far as the
eye could reach. There was a touch of bedlam in all this.
Perhaps it was that which made me feel lonely, since I was neither masked, nor disguised,
nor yelling, nor in any other way in harmony with the bedlam element of life. But I was
not sad. I was merely in a state of sobriety. I had just returned from my second West
Indies voyage. My eyes were still full of tropical splendour, my memory of my
experiences, lawful and lawless, which had their charm and their thrill; for they had
startled me a little and had amused me considerably. But they had left me untouched.
Indeed they were other men's adventures, not mine. Except for a little habit of
responsibility which I had acquired they had not matured me. I was as young as before.
Inconceivably young - still beautifully unthinking - infinitely receptive.
You may believe that I was not thinking of Don Carlos and his fight for a kingdom. Why
should I? You don't want to think of things which you meet every day in the newspapers
and in conversation. I had paid some calls since my return and most of my acquaintance
were legitimists and intensely interested in the events of the frontier of Spain, for
political, religious, or romantic reasons. But I was not interested. Apparently I was not
romantic enough. Or was it that I was even more romantic than all those good people?
The affair seemed to me commonplace. That man was attending to his business of a
Pretender.
On the front page of the illustrated paper I saw lying on a table near me, he looked
picturesque enough, seated on a boulder, a big strong man with a square-cut beard, his
hands resting on the hilt of a cavalry sabre - and all around him a landscape of savage
mountains. He caught my eye on that spiritedly composed woodcut. (There were no inane
snapshot-reproductions in those days.) It was the obvious romance for the use of royalists
but it arrested my attention.
 
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