The King in Yellow – Day 82 of 87

“These tulips are magnificent,” he observed, “and these hyacinths–” He fell into a trance at the mere sight of the scented thickets.

“That,” murmured Rue, pointing to a splendid rose-bush with her furled parasol, but in spite of her, her voice trembled a little. Selby noticed it, more shame to him that he was listening, and the gardener noticed it, and, burying his nose in the roses, scented a bargain. Still, to do him justice, he did not add a centime to the honest value of the plant, for after all, Rue was probably poor, and any one could see she was charming.

“Fifty francs, Mademoiselle.”

The gardener’s tone was grave. Rue felt that argument would be wasted. They both stood silent for a moment. The gardener did not eulogize his prize,–the rose-tree was gorgeous and any one could see it.

“I will take the pansies,” said the girl, and drew two francs from a worn purse. Then she looked up. A tear-drop stood in the way refracting the light like a diamond, but as it rolled into a little corner by her nose a vision of Selby replaced it, and when a brush of the handkerchief had cleared the startled blue eyes, Selby himself appeared, very much embarrassed. He instantly looked up into the sky, apparently devoured with a thirst for astronomical research, and as he continued his investigations for fully five minutes, the gardener looked up too, and so did a policeman. Then Selby looked at the tips of his boots, the gardener looked at him and the policeman slouched on. Rue Barrée had been gone some time.

“What,” said the gardener, “may I offer Monsieur?”

Selby never knew why, but he suddenly began to buy flowers. The gardener was electrified. Never before had he sold so many flowers, never at such satisfying prices, and never, never with such absolute unanimity of opinion with a customer. But he missed the bargaining, the arguing, the calling of Heaven to witness. The transaction lacked spice.

“These tulips are magnificent!”

“They are!” cried Selby warmly.

“But alas, they are dear.”

“I will take them.”

“Dieu!” murmured the gardener in a perspiration, “he’s madder than most Englishmen.”

“This cactus–”

“Is gorgeous!”

“Alas–”

“Send it with the rest.”

The gardener braced himself against the river wall.

“That splendid rose-bush,” he began faintly.

“That is a beauty. I believe it is fifty francs–”

He stopped, very red. The gardener relished his confusion. Then a sudden cool self-possession took the place of his momentary confusion and he held the gardener with his eye, and bullied him.

“I’ll take that bush. Why did not the young lady buy it?”

“Mademoiselle is not wealthy.”

“How do you know?”

Dame, I sell her many pansies; pansies are not expensive.”

“Those are the pansies she bought?”

“These, Monsieur, the blue and gold.”

“Then you intend to send them to her?”

“At mid-day after the market.”

“Take this rose-bush with them, and”–here he glared at the gardener–”don’t you dare say from whom they came.” The gardener’s eyes were like saucers, but Selby, calm and victorious, said: “Send the others to the Hôtel du Sénat, 7 rue de Tournon. I will leave directions with the concierge.”

Then he buttoned his glove with much dignity and stalked off, but when well around the corner and hidden from the gardener’s view, the conviction that he was an idiot came home to him in a furious blush. Ten minutes later he sat in his room in the Hôtel du Sénat repeating with an imbecile smile: “What an ass I am, what an ass!”

An hour later found him in the same chair, in the same position, his hat and gloves still on, his stick in his hand, but he was silent, apparently lost in contemplation of his boot toes, and his smile was less imbecile and even a bit retrospective.

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