The host needed no translation of the question. He promptly replied in French, 'No. Not this one.'
'Why not?' the same gentleman asked.
'Pardon,' returned the host composedly, 'give him the opportunity and he will do it without doubt. For example, I am well convinced,' smiling sedately, as he cut up the dish of veal to be handed round, on the young man who had been put out of countenance, 'that if you, Monsieur, would give him the opportunity, he would hasten with great ardour to fulfil his duty.'
The artist traveller laughed. The insinuating traveller (who evinced a provident anxiety to get his full share of the supper), wiping some drops of wine from his moustache with a piece of bread, joined the conversation.
'It is becoming late in the year, my Father,' said he, 'for tourist-travellers, is it not?'
'Yes, it is late. Yet two or three weeks, at most, and we shall be left to the winter snows.' 'And then,' said the insinuating traveller, 'for the scratching dogs and the buried children, according to the pictures!'
'Pardon,' said the host, not quite understanding the allusion. 'How, then the scratching dogs and the buried children according to the pictures?'
The artist traveller struck in again before an answer could be given.
'Don't you know,' he coldly inquired across the table of his companion, 'that none but smugglers come this way in the winter or can have any possible business this way?'
'Holy blue! No; never heard of it.'
'So it is, I believe. And as they know the signs of the weather tolerably well, they don't give much employment to the dogs--who have consequently died out rather--though this house of entertainment is conveniently situated for themselves. Their young families, I am told, they usually leave at home. But it's a grand idea!' cried the artist traveller, unexpectedly rising into a tone of enthusiasm. 'It's a sublime idea. It's the finest idea in the world, and brings tears into a man's eyes, by Jupiter!' He then went on eating his veal with great composure.
There was enough of mocking inconsistency at the bottom of this speech to make it rather discordant, though the manner was refined and the person well-favoured, and though the depreciatory part of it was so skilfully thrown off as to be very difficult for one not perfectly acquainted with the English language to understand, or , even understanding, to take offence at: so simple and dispassionate was its tone. After finishing his veal in the midst of silence, the speaker again addressed his friend.
'Look,' said he, in his former tone, 'at this gentleman our host, not yet in the prime of life, who in so graceful a way and with such courtly urbanity and modesty presides over us! Manners fit for a crown! Dine with the Lord Mayor of London (if you can get an invitation) and observe the contrast. This dear fellow, with the finest cut face I ever saw, a face in perfect drawing, leaves some laborious life and comes up here I don't know how many feet above the level of the sea, for no other purpose on earth (except enjoying himself, I hope, in a capital refectory) than to keep an hotel for idle poor devils like you and me, and leave the bill to our consciences! Why, isn't it a beautiful sacrifice? What do we want more to touch us? Because rescued people of interesting appearance are not, for eight or nine months out of every twelve, holding on here round the necks of the most sagacious of dogs carrying wooden bottles, shall we disparage the place? No! Bless the place. It's a great place, a glorious place!'
The chest of the grey-haired gentleman who was the Chief of the important party, had swelled as if with a protest against his being numbered among poor devils. No sooner had the artist traveller ceased speaking than he himself spoke with great dignity, as having it incumbent on him to take the lead in most places, and having deserted that duty for a little while.
He weightily communicated his opinion to their host, that his life must be a very dreary life here in the winter.