A Breath Of French Air - lightnovelgate.com
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When everything was finally packed and everyone was in the car Ma quite imperial in the back, with little Oscar in her arms Pop went up to the steps of the hotel and under the astonished eyes of M. Mollet gave Mademoiselle Dupont a prolonged parting sample of amorous affection that even had the children cheering from the car.
'Here, stand back and let the dog see the rabbit!' Ma called.
'Au revoir!' Pop said. 'Good-bye, Mademoiselle,' and at last retreated from her dazed figure with several debonair waves of the hand. 'A bientot! Au revoir, merci! So long! Good-bye.'
'Good-bye!' she called. 'Au revoir! Good-bye! Adieu!'
'Good-bye! Au revoir'! everyone called. 'Adieu. Good-bye!'
When Pop got back into the Rolls even Ma had to confess she was surprised at the length and generosity of Pop's prolonged farewell.
'You wouldn't be if you'd seen the bill,' Pop said. 'Dammit, might as well have my money's worth.'
The bill was a blinder. He doubted very much if he'd ever get over the bill. Percentages for this, taxes for that, services for the other. Breathing charges. He doubted if even Charley, that master of figures, would ever be able to sort out all the dodgy squeezes in that bill. It had very nearly skinned him out, he told Ma, very nearly skinned him.
'Think we got enough to get home with?' Ma said.
'Might have to pawn the Rolls,' Pop said serenely. 'Well, so much for the French lark.'
Still, he thought a moment later, it was all over, it was well wurf it, and he gave a final chorus of contrapuntal toots of the horn in debonair farewell as the Rolls moved away.
As soon as the Rolls was out of sight and Pop's cheerful tooting of first the medodious tune of the country horn and then the symphonic brass of the town one had died away Mademoiselle Dupont rushed back into the hotel, determined that no one should detect the tears in her eyes. But when the red roses arrived at two o'clock there was no help for it and she lay for the rest of the afternoon on her bed, weepily watching the roses in their big glass vase and seeing over and over again the pictures Pop had painted for her of his home, his chateau, the lordly paradise, in England. Never again would she say that the English were frigid and reticent or restrained or that they took their pleasures sadly or that fog perpetually covered their land. She knew it to be otherwise.
Meanwhile, as the Rolls drove along the coast, Ma called Pop through the speaking-tube.
'I don't know what you did to Mademoiselle Dupont last night but you got her in a proper tizzy.'
'Nothing,' Pop said airily. 'Nothing. Not a thing.'
'Did you ask her to marry you?'
Pop said he rather thought he had. Hadn't he ought to have done? Ma wasn't offended? After all she'd given him the cufflinks. Had to encourage her a bit.
'Oh! it's not that,' Ma said and started laughing in her customary hearty fashion. 'I was only thinking I hope she don't have to wait as long as I have.'
Pop burst out laughing too. That was one of Ma's good ones. Well, bill or no bill, it had been a pretty good holiday. Done everybody a whale of good, he thought, getting to know how foreigners lived. Especially Mariette and Charley, who both looked in the pink. He'd expect results now.
'I expect you asked Angela too, didn't you?' Ma said down the tube.
'Shouldn't wonder,' Pop said. 'She said summat about it.'
Ma said she wasn't worried about Angela. She was a sport. She could take care of herself. But she didn't want Pop going round putting people in a tizzy and breaking their hearts. You'd got to draw the line somewhere.
Pop agreed, but still when you were in Rome 'Oh! talking about Rome, there's another thing,' Ma said. 'Have you thought any more about little Oscar's names?'
Pop was quick to confess he hadn't.
'Well, I know you've been busy, but we can't let the poor little mite go about all his life with only one name, can we?' Ma said. That would be a nice thing, wouldn't it?'
Terrible, Pop said.
'Well, I've been thinking a lot about it. Are you listening?'
Yes, Pop told her on the tube, he was listening.
'Well,' Ma said, 'I tell you what.'
'Half a minute. We want something good. Something special. No half larks. Something a bit tres snob.'
'I know that,' Ma said. 'Anyway I've thought what I'd like to call him.'
'Oh?' Pop said. 'What?'
'I thought we'd call him Oscar Livingstone David Larkin.'
Pop was silent for some moments. All his strong paternal instincts came steeping warmly to the surface as he contemplated the proposed trio of names for his son. The names had got to be right, he thought again, no half larks.
Almost immediately he had a qualm about it and called back to Ma down the tube: 'No, Ma. Won't do. Not them. Can't have them.'
'Oh?' Ma said. 'Why not?'
'Makes his initials O.L.D.,' Pop said. 'He'll be called Old Larkin all his life. Can't have that.'
Ma cordially agreed; they couldn't possibly have that; and before she could think of anything else to say Pop called her again on the tube.
'Giving us a bit of trouble, this one,' he said. 'Good job it wasn't twins,' and went on to shoot a sudden, uneasily pertinent question at Charley 'Twins run in your family, Charley old man?'
Not that he knew of, Charley said.
'Well they do in ours!' Pop said in direct, open challenge, 'you want to watch what you're up to.'
And what did that mean? Ma said. Watch what who was up to?
'Well, you know,' Pop said darkly.'Somebody or other.'
Mr Charlton treated these exchanges with silence, not only because it was a silence he thought they deserved but also because he couldn't for the life of him think of anything remotely sensible to say.
'What was that you said about Rome, Ma?' Pop said. 'Didn't you say once you wanted to call him after some Roman Emperor?'
'I did an'all,' Ma said. 'But I'm blowed if I can remember which one it was now. Tiberius, I think.'
Back in a flash of scolding breath came Charley: 'Not on your life. Not that one. Not on your nelly.'
'Why not?' Ma said.
'You'd hardly want to call him after a judicial murderer, do you?'
Charley at it again, Pop thought, in silent admiration. Charley away again. Amazing feller. You never knew where Charley was off to next. He certainly used his loaf sometimes.
'I should think not,' Ma said. 'He's got a soft nature, this boy. Wasn't there one called Octavius, though? I remember him on telly once. In a play.'
'You can't possibly call him Octavius,' Charley said. 'He's the seventh, not the eighth.'
'Who is?' Pop said.
'Oscar. Besides Oscar Octavius sounds a bit much, don't you think? Call him Septimus if you want a Roman name.'
'Septimus?' Ma said. 'Why Septimus?'
'Septimus the seventh. Sept the same as in French. The same as September. The seventh month.'
Mariette, who occasionally found it necessary to keep Charley in check, he was so clever sometimes, said quickly: 'September isn't the seventh month, lovely. It's the ninth.'
Back in a revelatory flash came Charley again: 'Ah! but it used to be, darling, before the calendar was changed. Just as November used to be the ninth and December the tenth.'
Pop was stunned again to silent admiration. Wonderfully clever feller, Charley. Terrific clever feller. No keeping up with Charley.
'I think Septimus sounds rather nice,' Ma said, kissing Oscar on the ear, 'it suits his nature. You like it, Pop?'
He did, Pop said. It had that rather tres snob touch about it. What Charley sometimes called the je ne sais quoi.
'Not too difficult?' Ma said. 'After all we want to give him names people can say.'
Pop treated this remark with a short soft laugh of scorn. What was the name of that kid at the post office? he wanted to know. Horsa or something, wasn't it? Septimus was no worse than that. Who was Horsa anyway?
'Saxon King,' Charley said blandly. 'Had a brother named Hengist.'
Altogether too taken aback to speak, Pop could only silently congratulate Ma on the swiftness with which she once again made one of her nippy changes of subject.
'What was the name of that other explorer?' Ma said and then started laughing inconsequently, thinking of Charley. It would certainly be a bomb under Charley if Mariette had twins. That would make him use his loaf a bit. They could call them Hengist and Horsa too.
'Who?' Pop said. 'Shackleton?'
'No, before him,' Ma said. 'A foreigner.'
The word foreigner struck a certain discord in Pop, who found himself silent again, thinking hard but at a loss. Again Ma couldn't think of the name she wanted either and it was Charley who at last, as so often before, came to the rescue.
'Columbus. Is that the one you've got in mind?'
Columbus, Ma said. Of course. That was it.
'Oscar Columbus,' Pop repeated several times over. 'That's got class. Oscar Columbus. That's a bit of tres snob, an' all, Ma. I like that.'
Ma said she liked it too and should they settle on Oscar Septimus Columbus David then?
'Oh! not David,' Mariette said. 'I hate David.'
Pop confessed he too wasn't all that gone on David either and urged Ma to put her thinking cap on. Ma was always the one who had the brainwaves. She was a dabster for names.
Less than half a minute later Ma confirmed Pop's faith in her by laughing merrily down the tube and saying she wasn't sure but she thought she'd got it.
'How about Dupont?' she said. 'Oscar Columbus Septimus Dupont Larkin?'
It tickled him to death, Pop said. Dupont just the job. Perfick. It absolutely tickled him to death. Tres snob.
'That's that then,' Ma said calmly. 'And if we can't have a wedding when we get home, at least we can have a christening, can't we? Fair enough?'
Fair enough, Pop said. Any excuse for a party.
'And I tell you something else I just thought of,' Ma said.
Oh? Pop wanted to know. What was that?
'I thought we'd ask Mademoiselle Dupont to be godmother,' she said. 'Sort of bring her into the family.'
That was a corker, Pop said. He wondered what Mademoiselle would think of that?
'Blessed if I know,' Ma said. 'You never can tell what these Frenchwomen are thinking, I always say,' and then realized why. 'After all I don't suppose you can if you don't know their language, can you?'
A moment later the thought of little Oscar having a French godmother set Pop slapping his knee and roaring with laughter. Joyful noises gurgled down the speaking-tube and the sound of the Rolls's contrapuntal horns rang royally across the rocky slopes of heather, somewhere among which Charley's beloved little train, symbol of travel long ago, seemed to let out a terse and mocking toot in reply.
'Godmother Dupont,' Pop said. 'Well, I'll go to the bone-house. I'll go to the ossuary.'
'Which', Ma told him blandly but not uncordially down the tube, 'is just about where you'll end up one of these fine days,' and then, with a sigh, settled serenely back on the Rolls's deep dove-grey cushions, a wide handsome spread of maternal bosom exposed, ready to give Oscar Columbus Septimus Dupont Larkin a little drop of the best.