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he answered, rather sullenly, and disappointed at my want of feeling.
'Oh, I see,' said I; ' case of Cinderella and the Glass SlipperPrince sees a brodequin in a bootmaker's shop-tree in it very likely -falls in love with it-vows he will never marry any lady whose foot cannot take the place of the tree. Why this beats the barber in the book who fell in love with the wax lady in the shop window, to say nothing of his prototype, Pygmalion.'
'Now don't be a fool,' said Ranger, losing his patience; 'I said I had seen the boots at my hotel. Of course they were outside one of the doors.'
'Waiting to be cleaned,' I suggested, with a mischievous introduction of the prosaic element.
Well, and if they were, what then?' asked Ranger almost fiercely. 'The only suggestion which such an arrangement makes to my mind is that the shoeblack ought to be a happy man. But this is the fact. Every night when I pass through the corridor-au premier at the Grand Hôtel-on my way to my more elevated chamber, I see these bottines on the mat. Not always the same though. Sometimes they are of plain leather, kid or whatever it may be; sometimes they are of a beautiful bronze; sometimes they are not boots at all, but the sweetest things you ever saw in shoes.'
'You have surely not fallen in love with three ladies at once?' said I, reproachfully.
'No, no; don't, like a good fellow, talk nonsense,' said Ranger. Of course they belong to the same person; no other person could wear them. It is a case of the Glass Slipper as far as that fact goes, and I only wish I was in the position of the Prince. As it is I don't know what to do. What would you?'
'Well,' said I, if you wish me to take a practical view of the case, I should find out who occupied the room, identify her at the table d'hôte, or wherever you may meet her in the hotel, and then move heaven and earth to make her acquaintance.'
'As if any man, not an idiot, didn't know that!' cried Ranger, impatiently. Why I tell you there are two of them.'
He had not told me that, but I took no notice of this little fact.
'But surely,' I further suggested, recurring to the main point, you would be in a fair way of finding her out if you watched the ladies at the hotel, and observed if there were any feet going about that seemed likely to fit the bottines! But what do you mean by there being two of them? Do you mean that there are two sets of boots belonging to equally small feet?'
What I mean is this,' said Ranger. I have watched everybody in the hotel, and have seen feet in most of their varieties, but nothing capable of belonging to my bottines. If you were to observe the delicate rise of the instep from the toe, until it melts into the anklefor of course my bottines are bottines, and none of your vulgar Wellingtons, Hessians, what do you call them, with tassels you would agree with me that there is not a foot to be seen in the whole hotel that would fit them. But however, I have progressed beyond the necessity for a general search. When I said there were two, I meant that there are two ladies occupying the same suite of rooms, which has only one entrance from the corridor, and that my boots are only one of the two pairs that are always on the doormat.'
'And what are the others like?' I asked.
Ranger answered, in a tone of profound contempt, 'BEETLE-CRUSHERS!'
'Perhaps you take too harsh a view of them,' said I, 'as Heinrich Heine seems to have done with regard to the feet of the ladies of Göttingen. He tells us, as you may remember, that he was earnestly engaged for years in the refutation of the too-prevalent belief that the ladies of Göttingen have not enormous feet. For this purpose he not only studied comparative anatomy, and made copious extracts from all works obtainable on the subject, but he also watched for hours the feet
not quite sure that he convinced his readers in the case of the ladies of Göttingen, and it may be that you apply the severe epithet of " BeetleCrushers" without an equally attentive study of the subject.'
Ranger laughed this time.
'At any rate,' said he, 'any ordinary feet would look like BeetleCrushers beside my feet.'
Then returning to the practical point, I argued: 'But surely you have by this time identified the two occupants of the rooms, and after that there should be no difficulty, with a very little amount of the attention bestowed by Heine on a far wider subject, in distinguishing one from the other.'
'So you would think,' said Ranger, cynically, and so would all remarkably clever persons. But this is just what I have been trying to do for ten days, without success. There is one fashion in ladies' skirts which has gone out, and another fashion in ladies' skirts which has come in. In neither is any mystery made of the feet; but unfortunately my people will not adopt either one or the other. They neither wear hoops nor short dresses, but clinging drapery trailing on the ground, which defies any investigation, levelling in a common obscurity the "little mice" of the poet and such monstrous things as-Beetle-Crushers.'
Here the waiter seemed to think that coffee was imperative on us, so we went to coffee accordingly, or rather we allowed coffee to come to us, and, spurning the proffered 'Londres,' lit up such Havannas as are pearls beyond all price in Paris.
'And what is to be your next course of action?' I asked, resuming the subject; have you made the acquaintance of these ladies?'
That is the only thing to be done,' replied Ranger; but I have not tried as yet. I have been too nervous to take the initiative, and VOL. XV.-NO. XC.
they are not people, evidently, who are likely to talk to stray bachelors without some kind of inducement. Perhaps you might help me in the matter if you don't mind a table d'hôte dinner. My seat is exactly opposite theirs, and if we could get them to be just civilly conversational, I might, perhaps, establish something like an acquaintance. Not of course that this would necessarily gain me my information, but I should certainly seem nearer to it than now.'
Ever ready in the cause of friendship, I agreed to dine with him at the Grand Hôtel on the following day.
There is no need to apologise for asking a man to dinner at the table d'hôte of the Grand Hôtel unless the objection be to tables d'hôte altogether. So I thought as I entered the gorgeous hall where the repast was served, and received such a sensation of gold ornaments and mirrors, lights, flowers, and silver plate, as was calculated to give an appetite at once by raising expectation-not, I am bound to say, likely to be disappointed-of the menu.
Ranger was waiting, and at once conducted me to a seat beside his own near the centre of the room. There were two vacant places opposite.
Those are the places,' whispered Ranger, but of course there's a chance that they will not be filled.'
Just, however, as the preliminary oysters were placed on the table, two ladies threaded' their way towards the chairs, and took possession of them with continental composure. A glance from Ranger was sufficient to satisfy me of their identity, and I was free to form further impressions for myself.
They were both young, but one was, I should say, several years younger than the other. I would not venture to guess the age of the elder, but that of the younger might be about eighteen. They were both pretty, more than pretty-but their styles were by no means alike. The elder was the darker of the two
her features, not more delicate, were somehow more piquante; there was more animation in her mouth, and her black beady eyes conveyed an inevitable impression of suppressed mirth. The younger and lighter, however, had at least equal attractions of her own. Her features were as delicate as those of her companion, and there was a delicious softness about her deep-blue eyes-a softness which indeed pervaded her, and gave the prevailing character to her beauty.
Other things being equal-which they never are-I should think it would be difficult to choose between the two.
Ranger had told me their names and relative positions on the previous night, for he had talked about them all the way from the Moulin Rouge, past the Madeleine, to the very door of the Variétés Theatre, where we finished the evening. The elder lady was a widow named Merridew, and the younger was a cousin of hers, named Pembroke, who lived under her protection. So, at least, Ranger had learned in the hotel, and in hotels a great deal more is known of most persons than their names, after a short residence.
Ranger, by the way, had not informed me of the fact which I now found apparent — that they were both such charming persons in appearance. Absorbed in the important question which he had set himself to solve, he made no observation upon mere matters of detail.
The dinner developed for some time in a highly satisfactory manner as far as the viands were concerned, and we paid a touching attention to widowhood by making considerable acquaintance with Cliquot. But we made no way at all in getting upon speaking terms with our opposite neighbours. But for Ranger's sensibility in regard to them, I should have dashed into an introductory remark-at the risk of a rebuff-which, however, one is not likely to get at a foreign table d'hôte, even from English people. Apart, too, from Ranger's feelings, I was the stranger. He had been sitting opposite to them, at intervals, during ten days,
and was plainly the one to take the initiative.
The two ladies in the meantime talked upon indifferent subjects as if we had no existence, though I could not help thinking that Mrs. Merridew looked occasionally at Ranger with an inquiring glance, made the more significant by the twinkle of her irrepressible eye. I fancied she must at least have met him before. Ranger, on the other hand, though acute and observant in most matters, was curiously the contrary where ladies were concerned. I knew this failing of old.
Presently an opportunity did present itself for joining in their conversation. Mrs. Merridew, in continuation of some previous discussion as to their plans for the season, said to her cousin
'Yes, if I do not get a letter tomorrow I think we had better go on to Baden-Baden and wait for them there. But it's rather an awkward place for two ladies who are alone. I know it no more than you do, and I am very doubtful as to the hotels. Some of them may be quiet enough, but there is no knowing which, and it would be very weak to trust to the guide-books.'
'If you will allow me, madam,' said I, with a decision which Ranger regarded with looks of dismay, 'I can furnish you with the address of the best and quietest house in the place. It is not exactly an hotel, but the better suited perhaps on that account.'
And I gave her a card which I had in my pocket-book, at the risk, as it afterwards occurred to me, of being taken for a touter engaged by the concern.
I had no need to have any fears as to my reception. Mrs. Merridew was all graciousness, accepted the card, and returned thanks as if for a great favour, assuring me that she would certainly avail herself of my courtesy if she and her cousin-the reference to her cousin was encouraging-should really go to the place. But they were not sure, they expected some friends in Paris-and so forth.
Even Miss Pembroke put in a word or two expressive of pleasure at
the reception of so much valuable information; upon which I ventured to say that they were wise not to stay very long in Paris just then, when even the French all ran away on account of the heat.
Both ladies responded pleasantly to this sentiment; and the ice being thus broken, Ranger-what a diffident man he was for such a traveller! -went into the conversation with a plunge. He was quite as well received as myself-rather better, I thought, as far as Mrs. Merridew was concerned. And the result was that before dinner was over we were all upon very friendly travelling terms.
There was only one point in the conversation that need be recorded. Alluding to the many things to be seen in Paris, Mrs. Merridew said
We do not, however, see half so much on our way as we might; for we go everywhere in a carriage. I am a very good walker, but my cousin, I am sorry to say, is a very bad one.'
Ranger's face expressed visible satisfaction at this announcement. But he was probably not observed, for the ladies rose immediately afterwards, and we bowed them away from the table-Ranger, by the way, regarding them attentively till they passed out at the door. 'His vulture eye pursued the trip of those small glancing feet'-or would have done so had those objects been in sight.
We of course went on the Boulevards. As Ranger placed his arm in mine preparatory to our saunter among the life of the city, I felt him clutch me with what the French call effusion.
'I am not sure, of course,' said he, and would not hazard anything as yet; but I have a strong suspicion that Miss Pembroke's are the Mice and Mrs. Merridew's the Beetle-Crushers!'
Ranger came over to me-he had not to come far, only to the Hôtel des Princes-on the following day, soon after breakfast.
'Congratulate me,' he said; 'I think I have a clue.'
'Clue to what?' said I.
To the owner of the feet,' he said, exultingly; and this is how I have got it. Both of the womenif they will allow me to call them so -appeared this morning at breakfast, and the train of conversation which we commenced yesterday, thanks to you, was continued today, thanks to them, and was made not quite unavailable, I suspect, thanks to me.'
Well, what's your idea? said I, bringing him to the point.
You shall see,' he said. 'Let me tell you what happened. Mrs. Merridew talked quite unreservedly in my presence about their plans-not only prospective, but immediate; not only about Baden-Baden next week, but their little expeditions during the day. And among other things she said to Clara-why the deuce am I calling her Clara?-but that is the name by which she addresses Miss Pembroke. Among other things that she said to Miss Pembroke was this: "We must not forget to call at the bootmaker's."
Was that all?' I asked, discouragingly.
'Wait,' returned Ranger. In the course of the conversation I actually heard the address of the bootmaker's at which they were to call.'
'Something may come out of that,' said I.
'Something!' cried Ranger, 'everything I should hope. They seem to have boots in preparation. They intend to call at twelve o'clock. I mean to call at one-they must surely have left by that time-and it will be hard if I do not find out something. Come with me, like a good fellow.'
So like a good fellow I went with him. It was only into the Rue de la Paix, and the bootmakers were well known. We were there ten minutes before the time, but seeing nobody in the front shop we ventured to enter and open our campaign.
Ranger gave an order for some dress boots, for which he was duly measured, and while this process was being performed he took care to engage the shopman in conversation.
'Do you make ladies' boots?' he asked-the slimy villain, as if the shop was not full of feminine articles.
Yes, without doubt, the Frenchman answered; they made everything of the kind for great ladies of the world.
Were they making many now? was the next question.
Ah, his faith, yes, certainly, for great ladies among the English living at the hotels. They were sending that afternoon to Meurice's, to the Castilione, to the Louvre, to the Grand, and elsewhere.
And the shopman pointed to a number of packets piled on a counter ready for delivering.
Ranger acknowledged the information in a careless manner, and then gave some preposterous order in reference to the making of his own boots, which sent the man away to consult his master.
'Now,' said Ranger, when the shop was clear, 'let us see if we can find out anything like a fact.'
So he overhauled the parcels on the counter with rapid assiduity, and presently raised a cry of satisfaction.
'See,' said he, there are two packets for the Grand Hôtel, one directed to Madame Merridew, and the other to Mademoiselle Pembroke.
There were certainly two packets so addressed, and he held them before me triumphantly.
'Look,' said he, 'there seems to be a couple of pairs of boots in each, and one packet is much smaller than the other.'
"There does seem a difference in the size,' I observed; and the next question is easy to determine.'
It was easy. The larger packet was addressed to Madame Merridew; the smaller one to Miss Pembroke.
Ranger was quite idiotic in his demonstrations at this discovery.
'I told you so,' said he; ‘I knew that Clara-that Miss Pembrokehad the small feet. Look, look, here are the Mice, unmistakably; and here does not the fact proclaim itself?-here are the Beetle-Crushers.'
Appearances were certainly in his
favour, and I congratulated him upon the discovery.
Now,' said I, 'you may make your court without fear of making a mistake.'
He was in ecstasies at the idea, but still seemed to require my help, and insisted that I should dine with him again that night at his hotel. I could not choose but promise.
At six o'clock-they dine early at tables d'hôte in Paris-I was again among the gilding, the glass, the plate, the flowers, and the damask that distinguish the dinner at the Grand Hôtel beyond all other dinners of its class.
Again we were early; again our opposite neighbours were late; and when they appeared at last they brought with them a companion upon whom we had not counted. It was a hateful being in the form of man.
Not a man that we could object to, however, upon general or particular grounds. He was a gentleman, that was evident, and one who, without any appearance of dictation, took command of the party as if by a natural right. He ordered the wine, and assumed every other function connected with the control of the feast, as if he were in his own house. He was a man, perhaps, of forty years of age-we could not object to that at any rate-a welllooking, well-mannered, conventional style of person, with an air of opulence about him, and a serene way of not seeming to care a straw about anybody, which goes a great way at a table d'hôte, to say nothing of other places.
The new comer engrossed the attention of the ladies during the entire dinner. Beyond a slight salutation at the commencement, and an inane remark about the weather from Mrs. Merridew, they took no notice of us. Their conversation, too, unconstrained as it was, gave us no clue to the relation in which the gentleman stood towards them, or to one of them in particular. He was a cousin, perhaps, or an uncle, or a brother of