[Narrator Asticot, a young boy, has become part of the vagabond Paragot's entourage]
When I returned to the bedroom Paragot was dressed for the day. His long lean wrists and hands protruded far through the sleeves of an old brown jacket. He wore a grey flannel shirt and an old bit of black ribbon done up in a bow by way of a tie; his slouch hat, once black, was now green with age, and his boots were innocent of blacking. But my eyes were dazzled by a heavy gold watch chain across his waistcoat and I thought him the most glorious of betailored beings.
[Later, Paragot is playing his violin in cafes in France]
I went round with my tambourine [collecting money]. When I reached the table at which the four newcomers were seated I found that they spoke English. They were a young man in a straw hat, a young girl, a forbidding looking man of 40 with a beaky nose, and the loveliest lady I had ever seen in my life. She had the complexion of a sea-shell. Her eyes were the blue of glaciers and they shone cold and steadfast; but her lips were kind. Her black hair under the large white tulle hat had the rare bluish tinge, looking as if cigarette smoke had been blown through it. Small and exquisitely made she sat the princess of my boyish dreams.
observations: So what do you think, is there a chance for a relationship between the two people above, the vagabond and the lady? I explained in a previous entry how I loved this book when I was a teenager, finding it joyful and romantic and satisfying. The romance is a good one…
Asticot knows that there is a disastrous love affair in Paragot’s past, and eventually a woman called Joanna pops up, above, and a complex extra plot gets under way. Drama, mystery, secrets and shame are all associated with a broken engagement many years before.
Joanna has a husband (the forbidding man above) who is a Comte, and is (admirably) always referred to as the scaly-headed and beaky-nosed vulture. I love a weird medical diagnosis in a book, and he has a form of mental derangement that must take some kind of a prize. Normally a sane man, he will suddenly have an attack in which thinks he has killed Paragot.
[The attacks] lasted two or three days, till they spent themselves leaving the patient in great bodily prostration.Joanna realizes that confronting the Comte with the real Paragot ‘might end his madness.’ It does, but only briefly, so the situation arises in which every few weeks Paragot has to go to the Comte’s bedside in the middle of the night to convince him that he, Paragot, is still alive. What larks. And there is more, much more to come, which I hesitate to spoiler.
But although the book is quite sentimental and romanticized, and the plot is preposterous, you can never dismiss it as rubbish, it has a nice undercurrent of grit and self-deprecation. Beloved Vagabond has been giving me endless enjoyment for many many years now, and never fails as a comfort read. I am hoping these two blogposts might unearth some other fans.
The previous entry on the book persuaded at least one reader, Lissa Evans, that she should read the Claud Cockburn book Bestseller, mentioned in the post and in several other blog entries over the years. Bestseller, dating from 1972, is a very funny but also very intelligent and informative look at ‘the books that everyone read 1900-1939’ and anyone who is interested in what I described as high-grade tosh should certainly try to get hold of it. (Vicki/Skiourophile, looking at you.) Blog favourites dealt with in the book include - as well as this one - Beau Geste, The Green Hat, When it Was Dark, Constant Nymph, National Velvet. It is the Bible for high-grade tosh.
The Bohemian is by Alfred J Miller from Walters Museum Baltimore.
The woman in the white hat is by Lilla Cabot Perry and from The Athenaeum.