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HOME > Classical Novels > The Admirable Tinker > CHAPTER TEN TINKER'S FOUNDLING
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 On the following afternoon Tinker met Madame de Belle-Île hurrying out of the hotel in a scarlet1 travelling costume.  
At the sight of him she stopped short and cried, "Have you heard the sad news?"
"No; what sad news?" said Tinker.
"About poor Monsieur Courtnay! He has had an accident; he is laid up at Nice, ill among strangers! I go; I fly to nurse him!"
"Nurse that brute2!" said Tinker quickly. "That—that is a waste of kindness."
Madame de Belle-Île's face fell, and then flushed with anger. "You are a horrid3 and detestable boy!" she cried angrily.
"Oh, no! I'm not! It's quite true," said Tinker quietly, and he looked at her seriously. He wanted to warn her; then he saw that he could not do so without revealing Claire's secret. "I wish I could tell you about him," he went on. "But I can't. He really is a sweep!"
"You are an impertinent little wretch4!" she said, and left him.
"Au revoir," said Tinker gently.
But she only tossed her head, and hurried on. Yet Tinker's honest expression of opinion had impressed her: she had a belief in the instinct of children generally and, like most people who came into contact with him, she had a strong belief in the instinct of Tinker. She tried to forget his words; but they kept recurring5 to her, and in spite of herself, unconsciously, they put her on her guard.
Tinker watched her out of sight, then he had half a thought of telling Claire that she had gone to Courtnay, doubtless at his summons. But he saw quickly that there was no need, and dismissed the thought from his mind. Also, he kept out of his cousin's way for some days; he had a feeling that,—however grateful she might be to him, the sight of him, reminding her of how badly Courtnay had behaved, would be unpleasant to her.
However, he watched her from a distance, and saw that she was pale and listless. Then he saw with great pleasure that Lord Crosland contrived6 to be with her a good deal, that he even neglected the system for her. But for all this pleasure, he was not quite easy in his mind; the knowledge that he had done his grand-uncle Bumpkin the service of saving him from such a son-in-law as Courtnay was a discomfort7 to him: he felt that this was a matter which must be set right, and he kept his eyes open for a chance. He looked, too, for the return of Courtnay and Madame de Belle-Île; but the days passed and they did not return.
One morning he found himself in an unhappy mood. It seemed to him that his wits had come to a standstill; for three days no new mischief8 had come the way of his idle hands, and his regular, dally9, mischievous10 practices had grown so regular as almost to have acquired the tastelessness of duties. The peculiar11 brightness and gaiety of Monte Carlo life had begun to pall12 upon him. Loneliness was eating into his soul; for of all the French boys who paraded the gardens of the Temple of Fortune, he could make nothing. Their costumes, which were of velvet13 and satin and lace, revolted him; their lack of spirit, their distaste for violent movement, their joy in parading their revolting costumes filled him with wondering contempt. As for the little French girls, he was at any time uninterested in girls; and these spindle-shanked precocities walked on two-inch heels, and tried to fascinate him with the graces of mature coquettes. His careful politeness was hard put to it to conceal15 his distaste for their conversation. Possibly he was hankering after a healthier life; but at any rate he, who was generally so full of energy, had mooned listlessly about the gardens all the morning, with a far-away look in his eyes, and the air of a strayed seraph16.
During his mooning about he had passed several times a little girl who looked English. She sat on a seat in the far corner—a strange, shy, timid child, watching with a half-frightened wonder the strikingly-dressed women and children who strolled up and down, chattering17 shrilly18. He gave her but indifferent glances as he passed; but, thanks to his father's careful training of his natural gift of observation, the indifferent glance of that child of the world took in more of a fellow-creature than most men's careful scrutiny20. He saw that she was frail21 and big-eyed, that her frock was ill-fitting and shabby, her hat shabbier, her shoes ready-made, that she wore no gloves, and that her mass of silky hair owed its unsuccessful attempts at tidiness to her own brushing. He summed her up as that archetype of patience, the gambler's neglected child.
Just before he went to his déjeuner, he saw that she was sitting there still. He took that meal with his father and Lord Crosland; and instead of hurrying off, directly he had eaten his dessert, to some pressing and generally mischievous business, he sat listening to their talk over their coffee and cigars, and only left them at the doors of the Casino. He strolled along the terrace, moody22 and disconsolate23, able to think of nothing to amuse him, and, as he came to the end of the gardens, he saw a group of French children gathered in front of the seat on which the little girl was sitting, and, coming nearer, he heard jeering24 cries of "Sale Anglaise! Sale Anglaise!"
In a flash Tinker's face shone with a very ecstasy25 of pure delight, and he swooped26 down on the group. The child was clutching the arm of the seat, and staring at her tormentors with parted lips and terrified eyes. For their part, they were enjoying themselves to the full. They had found a game which afforded them the maximum of pleasure, with the minimum of effort; and just as Tinker swooped down, a cropped and bullet-headed boy in blue velvet threw a handful of gravel27 into her face. She threw up her hands and burst into tears; the children's laughter rose to a shrill19 yell; and with extreme swiftness Tinker caught the bullet-headed boy a ringing box on the right ear and another on the left. The boy squealed28, turned, clawing and kicking, on Tinker, and, in ten seconds of crowded life, had learned the true significance of those cryptic29 terms an upper-cut on the potato-trap, a hook on the jaw30, a rattler on the conk, and a buster on the mark. He lay down on the path to digest the lesson, and his little friends fled, squealing31, away.
The little girl slipped off the seat and said "Thank you," between two sobs32.
Tinker's face was one bright, seraphic smile as he took off his hat, and, with an admirable bow, said, "May I take you to your people?"
The bullet-headed boy rose to his feet and staggered away.
"Uncle's still in that big house," said the little girl, striving bravely to check her sobs.
"That's a nuisance," said Tinker thoughtfully; "for we can't get at him."
"I think he's forgotten all about me. He often does," said the little girl, without any resentment33; and she dusted the gravel off her frock.
"I might bolt in and remind him."
"They won't let us in—only grown-ups," said the little girl. "Uncle tried to get them to let me in; but they wouldn't."
"They're used to letting me in," said Tinker—"and hauling me out again," he added. "It brightens them up. You tell me what he's like."
Being a girl, the child was able to describe her uncle accurately34: but when she had done, Tinker shook his head:
"He must be just like a dozen other Englishmen in there," he said. "And they wouldn't give me time to ask each one if he were your uncle."
The little girl sighed, and said, "It doesn't matter, thank you," and, sitting down again on the seat, resumed her patient waiting, drooping35 forward with eyes rather dim.
Tinker studied her face, and his keen eye told him what was wrong.
"Have you had déjeuner?" he said sharply.
"No-o-o," said the little girl reluctantly.
"Then you've had nothing since your coffee this morning?"
"No, but it doesn't matter. Uncle is rather forgetful," said the little girl, but her lips moved at the thought of food as a hungry child's will.
"This won't do at all! Come along with me. It's rather late, but we'll find something."
Her face brightened for a moment; but she shook her head, and said, "No, I mustn't go away from here. Uncle might come back, and he would be so angry if he had to look for me."
Tinker shrugged36 his shoulders, turned on his heel, and was gone. She looked after him sadly. She would have liked him to stay a little longer; it was so nice to talk to an English boy after ten days in this strange land; and he seemed such a nice boy. But she only drooped37 a little more, and stared out over the bright sea with misty38 eyes, composing herself to endure her hunger.
Tinker went swiftly to the restaurant of the Hôtel des Princes, where the waiters greeted him with affectionate grins, and, addressing himself to the manager, set forth39 his new friend's plight40, and his wishes. The manager fell in with them on the instant, only too pleased to have the chance of obliging his most popular customer; and, in five minutes, Tinker left the restaurant followed by a waiter bearing a tray of dainties, all carefully chosen to tempt14 the appetite of a child. They took their way to the gardens, and the little girl brightened up at the sight of the returning Tinker. But when the waiter set the tray on the seat, she flushed painfully, and though she could not draw her hungry eyes away from the food, she stammered41, "T-t-thank you very m-m-much. B-b-but I haven't any money."
Tinker gave the waiter a couple of francs, and bade him come for the tray in half an hour. Then he said cheerfully, "That's all right. The food's paid for; and whether you eat it or not makes no difference. In fact, you may as well."
The child looked from his face to the food and back again, wavering; then said, with a little gasp42, "Oh, I am so hungry."
Tinker took this for a consent, put some aspic of pâté de foie gras on her plate, and watched her satisfy her hunger with great pleasure, which was not lessened43 by the fact that, for all her hunger, she ate with a delicate niceness. He had feared from her neglected air that her manners had also been neglected. After the aspic, he carved the breast of the chicken for her, helped her to salad, and mixed the ice water with the sirop to exactly the strength he liked himself; after the chicken, he helped her to meringues, and after the meringues lighted the kirsch of the poires au kirsch, which he had chosen because it always pleased him to see the kirsch burn, and ate one of the pears himself, while she ate the others. When she had finished her little sigh of content warmed his heart.
He put the tray behind the seat, and settled down beside her for a talk. Now that she was no longer hungry, she was no longer woebegone, and her laugh, though faint, was so pretty that he found himself making every effort to set her laughing. They talked about themselves with the simple egoism of children; and he learned that her name was Elsie Brand; that she was ten years old—nearly two years younger than himself—that her mother had died many years ago, and that she had lived with her father in his Devonshire parsonage by the sea till last year, when he, too, had died. Then her Uncle Richard had taken her away to live with him in London. Her story of her life in London lodgings44 set Tinker wondering about that Uncle Richard, and piecing together the details Elsie let fall about his late rising, his late going to bed, his morning headache and distaste for breakfast, he came to the conclusion that he was a bad hat who lived by his somewhat inferior wits.
At the end of her story he tried to persuade her to come to the sea with him and seek amusement there. But he failed; she would not leave the seat. He gathered, indeed, from her fear of vexing46 her uncle that that bad hat was in the habit of slapping her if she angered him, and, for a breath, he was filled with a fierce indignation which surprised him; she looked so frail. But he did not ask her if it were so, for his delicacy47 forewarned him that the question would provoke a struggle between her loyalty48 and her truthfulness49. He entertained her, therefore, with his reminiscences, and enjoyed to the full the admiration50 and wonder which filled her face as he talked. Absorbed in one another, they paid no heed51 to the passing of the hours; and the sudden fall of twilight52 surprised them.
They began to speculate whether Uncle Richard had had enough of his gambling53, and would come and fetch her. But, even now, Elsie was not impatient, so inured54 had she been to neglect. She only looked anxious again. Tinker, on the other hand, was impatient, very impatient, with Uncle Richard, whom he was disposed to regard as a gentleman in great need of a kicking. Moreover, the chill hour after sunset, so dangerous on that littoral55, was upon them, and he considered with disquiet56 the thin stuff of the child's frock.
Presently he said abruptly57, "I've promised my father to wear an overcoat during the fever hour. I must be off and get it, and a wrap for you. You won't be frightened, if I leave you alone?"
"No," Elsie said bravely, but her tone belied58 the word.
"Well, walk up and down quickly, so that you don't get a chill. If you keep near the seat, your uncle can't miss you if he comes."
"Very well," said Elsie, rising obediently. "Only—only—if you could get back soon."
"I will," said Tinker, and he bolted for the hotel.
Elsie walked up and down, trying to feel brave, but the odd shapes which the bushes assumed in the dim light daunted59 her not a little, and she strove to drive away the fancy that she saw people lurking60 among them. Tinker was gone a bare seven minutes; but to the timid child it seemed a very long while, and she welcomed his return with a gasp of relief.
He wore a smart, close-fitting brown racing61 overcoat, which reached to his ankles; and for her he brought his fur-l............
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