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FORM NO. »09: I.4.S61 2S01I.
Potterat and the
*' Propos du Commissaire Potterat," "Monsieur Potterat se marie," etc.
• * i
* * J * * '
Dodd, Mead & Company
■/•:-' ■'■ ^:•:.;;^r■•t^r:W^8.^ 1918
» • • fc«
-^ CHAPTER I
>v *' I LIKE this place immensely !" and with a wide sweep
of both arms towards the horizon, David Potterat added:
" The Alps on the left, the Jura on the right, the Lake
'- in front, the Jorat behind, the sun blazing away in the
heavens, a garden, and me in the middle of it. . . .
^ What more could a man want ?"
So then, after a career full of honours and of dangers,
the retired Police Superintendent had settled down to
cultivate his flowers, grow salads, and employ his detec-
tive talents in tracking down snails and slugs.
Was it really nine years since he and his wife and two
cats had come to live in this old house, above whose
;doorway, half hidden by the climbing ivy, might be
read the poetic name 'Eglantine Cottage.' . . . Nine
3^ears ! But happiness is not to be measured by years.
Often would Potterat lean upon his spade, and look
up at the house, the overhanging eaves of which made it
look like an old face in a poke bonnet. With a musically
monotonous note the fountain behind the thicket
plashed ceaselessly into its basin; and the arched door
of the shed, the dormer windows, the laurels, and the
thousand and one flowers which faithfully came to keep
tryst with the seasons, the jasmine, honeysuckle, tulips,
larkspurs, carnations, and roses, lay alvv^ays under the
magic of its voice.
Potterat loved to sit on the bench in the shade, and
smoke his pipe after the day's work. The fragrance of
coffee roasting in preparation for the evening meal, and
2 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
the scent of the flowers borne on the warm air, mingled
with the fragrant tobacco smoke, made an atmosphere
which it was good to breathe, which invigorated both
mind and body.
In the spotless kitchen, the deal table, the wooden
benches, the saucepans, the pots and pans, cups and
saucers, patterned with blue forget-me-nots, conveyed a
suggestion of peaceful torpor after many meals. In the
thickness of the wall a door opened on six steps leading
down to a cool cellar, where two casks reposed, in com-
pany with pots of jam in orderly rows. A second cellar
served as a general storeroom, workshop, and woodshed.
All these, however, shrank into unimportance beside
' the room,' a good-sized chamber, not so small as to
make one feel cramped, nor so large as to make one feel
lost in it. Two windows, in deep embrasures, admitted
a discreet amount of light to the faded wallpaper on which
shepherdesses disported themselves; and to the old fur-
niture, ranged along the walls in orderly regularity.
Here were some shooting prizes, handsomely framed,
and the commissions of the master of fhe house to his
various grades, from sergeant to superintendent; some
photographs of heavily moustached policemen, others of
fellow-members of the brass band to which he belonged;
one of a smiling grandmother, whom the artist had
represented as standing by a cage of brilliantly plumaged
birds; and lastly, resplendent in their bridal veils,
Potterat's two wives, side by side on one wall, beamed
on a portrait of Potterat himself on the opposite wall,
Potterat in full uniform, the buttons of which shone
out from the dark cloth like dandelions on a grassy field,
and with his chest well thrown out. When the original
of the portrait sat on the sofa below, it could easily be
seen that the painter, in spite of all his efforts, had not
done full justice to Potterat's radiant cheeks, his plump,
easy-going good-nature, his merry eyes, and the smiling
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 3
gaiety of the whole face which arched his eyebrows,
wrinkled up his nose, creased his double chin, and made
his cheekbones ghsten.
That man of mine," Madame Potterat would say.
He's always got his joke !"
For nine years his laugh had filled Eglantine Cottage.
The first few months of his settling there, however, had
not been without a certain melancholy. With the con-
tradictoriness of human nature, whilst he was in uniform,
promenading the streets, keeping vigilant guard. Super-
intendent Potterat was always longing for the country,
recalling the sights and sounds of his childhood in
Thierrens, a remote country village, and at Bioley-Orjulaz;
yet when he had retired to private Hfe and the peaceful
cultivation of a garden, he yearned for the excitements
of life in the Police. But very soon Potterat banished
these weaknesses as unworthy of a man with so perfect
a digestion as his.
A true son of the earth, a lover of trees, of blue horizons
of wandering paths, he appreciated the minutes wasted
here and there m the mornings and evenings in watching
the promontories of the Lake, and the play of the light
on the translucent water.
" It is like a scene on the stage !" said he to his wife.
" Except that there are no actors.''
" Actors ? . . . What about you, and me, and the
hens, and the cats, and the bats, and the swallows !
We make up our parts as we go. . . . There is nothing
so untrue to life as the theatre ! When I was a police-
man, I used to have to go there sometimes, in my pro-
fessional capacity. I generally sat up at the back of
the gallery. . . . Talk about actors ! It took them
three hours, sometimxcs four, to get to the point of saying
' I love you !' and this in good pieces, mind you ! In the
other sort . . . nothing but inconstant husbands, light
women, emancipated girls, illegitimate births, revolver
4 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
shooting, in fact, ' the devil and all his works M Often
have I seen women apparently breathing their last,
lying flat on the linoleum ! But I only laughed in my
sleeve. I knew very well that I should see them the
next day as usual, tiptoeing about on their little high-
heeled shoes, their faces whiter with powder than a
plasterer's ! No, in the theatre, everything is made-up,
artificial; in the country, everything is natural."
Madame Potterat, also born in the country, and later
transplanted to the town, a milliner before she became
the wife of a gardener, had felt somewhat the same as
her husband. Her feelings were different, however;
more hidden, but perhaps stronger and more enduring.
While she was in daily contact with velvets, plumes,
aigrettes, ostrich feathers, artificial flowers, etc., she used
to indulge in wonderful dreams of some grand future.
Now, leaning over the cradle of a young Potterat, she
built castles in the air for her son, saw him at last married
to some high-born damsel. . . . Meantime, what was
to be his name ? . . . Gerard ? . . . Gontran ? . . .
Hugo ? . . . Fedor ? . . . Sweeping all these high-
sounding names aside contemptuously, Potterat insisted
on his being christened ' Charles.'
" Give him a decent name that won't attract atten-
tion !" he said.
By dint of coaxing, Madame Potterat persuaded him
to allow the child to be called ' Carlo ' instead of ' Charles,'
and for the sake of peace Potterat gave in.
" All right, call him ' Carlo ' ! That won't make him
die a day sooner !"
Only a hedge separated Potterat's garden from that of
his son-in-law, Justin Schmid. The two men did not
get on well together; one all good-nature, sociable,
talkative, animated; the other silent, reserved, jealous
of the little pension which enabled his father-in-law to
live in tolerable comfort without anxiety. That his
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 5
father-in-law, in addition to this, had the cheek to sell
some of his vegetables and fruit amongst his friends and
to the cooks of some rich families plunged Schmid into
a fury of jealous resentment that was perfectly obvious
to everyone, in spite of his silence. The great jovial
laughs that rang out at every turn from the garden the
other side of the hedge were detestable to him; and,
moreover, his father-in-law's continual jokes on a certain
subject annoyed him exceedingly.
" And the son and heir ? . . . When is he going to
appear ? . . . You must tell Louise to hurry up. Ours
is already two months old. ... It would be pretty,
an uncle and a nephew of the same age. ..."
Carlo was still a babv in arms when Louise at last had
a boy. They called him Louis. Tenderly, Potterat and
his wife bent over the new baby, who wailed continually.
** What a great whopping boy !"
** He is the image of you, Louise," said Madame
Potterat, '' but he is going to be fair, like his father. . . ."
" Too bad !" murmured Potterat softly. Then aloud:
" How d'ye do, young m.an ? How do you like this
world ? . . . It might be better, hey ! . . . and it
might be worse. You have to take the rough with the
smooth. ... In another seventy years or so, you will
be nearly ready to leave it again. You will have had
bad times and good times, like everybody else. The
great thing is to have a good digestion and a good con-
science. The rest will look after itself."
Schmid, taciturn and dour, watched his father-in-law
' out of the corner of his eye.
*' Was there ever such a deaf-mute of a man ! If the
good God, at the Judgment Day, demands account of
every idle word, his examination won't take long !"
So thought Potterat to himself a Httle later, as he
planted tomatoes. This work done, he filled his watering-
cans, walked about with short steps, holding the water-
6 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
ing-pot at arm's length, his huge apron standing out
round him, his braces lost in the folds of his shoulders,
his face radiant with happiness in this beautiful month
On the other side of the hedge, Justin Schmid per-
formed the same work in grim silence, methodically,
sparing of distances, of trouble, sparing also of manure,
the heap of which had scarcely diminished at all. More
prodigal, the sun shone impartially on the twin gardens,
on the house with its two entrances, glanced off the edge
of a tool, penetrated in shafts into a clump of raspberry
bushes. Along a path, with its tail high, its whiskers
flying on the wind, begging for caresses, the cat Mi-Fou
joined his master.
" You're getting old, my friend," said Potterat to him.
" How is the lumbago ?"
Mi-Fou mewed by way of reply.
" That's right !" said his master. " I like cats who
talk, I do !"
These words were carried by the wind to the ears of
Justin Schmid. Others followed them:
" You're planting those tomatoes too closely. . . .
They want plenty of room. . . . You must give them
space to fill out properly, to look at each other, to get a
good bright red. ..."
This advice annoyed Schmid exceedingly. Potterat
was rather fond of giving advice. Grumpily he replied
in a gruff voice :
" Everyone's got his own way of doing things !"
" Cross-grained brute !" muttered Potterat to himself,
as he picked up a fresh watering-can. ** Always cranky,
suspicious, obstinate, sneering. . . . Oh, he's a nice
specimen to have for a neighbour !"
Potterat dehghted in the society of his fellows. He
was never happy without an audience. Nothing pleased
him so much as the social evenings spent amongst his
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 7
friends, the time-honoured toasts drunk in company,
the Uttle stories which provoked roars of laughter.
He belonged to a Choral Society, was a member of a
huge brass band called ' La Brise du Lac,' and of various
other societies for mutual improvement. To indulge still
more his sociable taste, he had even cut some openings
in the hedge which bordered the road, and at one or other
of these he might often be seen, leaning with folded arms
on the battlement of foliage, his broad shoulders filling
up the space completely.
" How are things going in the Police ?" he inquired
one day of Sergeant Delessert, as he passed.
Delessert eyed longingly a peach-tree laden with fruit,
as he answered with a smile :
" The Police ? . . . Oh, everything's changing. . . .
In your time things were pretty easy-going. Now the
discipline is simply Prussian. . . . Ah, you retired at
the right time. . . . Fine time ^^ou have here ! You
plant, you reap, you eat your own peaches ! . . ."
A little ashamed of his easy life, Potterat returned to
" What's the latest news at the Station ?"
** Oh, the same old round: they catch the little thieves,
and let the big thieves go free. ... A fortnight ago,
they ran in Belisaire again, for the thirty-second time.
. . . Begging, peddling without a licence, poaching, . . .
but you know him better than I do ! . . . He came out
on Saturday. So look out for your fruit ! He's prowling
about this neighbourhood, I believe !"
''Ho, the devil he is ! That explains some things ! . . ."
For some days, as a matter of fact, some mysterious
being had been groping with grimy hands among the
downy peaches. Potterat had put it down to the black-
birds at first.
One evening, soon after this, as eleven o'clock was
just striking, and the moon came out suddenly from
8 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
behind a cloud, Potterat's fist closed firmly on a thin
shoulder, and dragged into the tool-shed a man with an
old hat pulled down on his ears, a shabby bent back,
and frail legs lost in the accordion-like folds of trousers
much too large for him.
" Well, I'm dashed !" spluttered Potterat. " People
may steal bread if they're hungry, but not peaches. Just
you wait till I get a spade-handle — Pve got a good hard
one here — and I'll give you a thrashing you won't forget
in a hurry ! . . . The cheek of the beggar ! . . . Coming
after my peaches ! . . ."
The moon threvv^ on the wall of the garden the shadows
of Potterat's portly corporation, and the emaciated
figure of the thief in a comical silhouette. In the shed
a lantern was lighted.
'* It is him, right enough !" breathed Potterat. * Him '
being none other than Belisaire, the spoilt child of the
Police, the incorrigible drunkard, innocent and gentle as
a child, the timid pilferer, a true gipsy, loving the open
roads, the hedges, the woods, the wayside inns at cross-
roads; Belisaire, dirty and in rags, a quid of tobacco
always in his left cheek, bright-eyed, and with a matted
" Wretch !" began Potterat, in a voice, however, so
deep and so kindly, in spite of the circumstances, that
tears came to the eyes of the incorrigible old dreamer.
'* At your age, to creep through fences, to climb plum-
trees ! . . . You're mad, quite mad ! Nobody else in
the world would think of doing such things ! . . . Well,
well ! . . . To be robbing orchards when you are old
enough to be a grandfather !"
A silence followed these words. Half turned away,
Belisaire' s narrow, rather foxy face could no longer be
seen, but only his sharp. Punch-like profile.
'' Ah, things are very different now from what they
were when you were in the Police ! For nothing at all
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 9
scarcely, they run me in now on the ground that I am
a worry to them. ... I can't roam about now as I
used to do. People don't understand things nowadays !
. . . Oh, one time or another, some wet night, I'll have
to buy a bit of rope . . . there's always a tree handy ! . . ."
With arms folded across his chest, moved by that
plaintive voice, Potterat looked at BeHsaire: "What a
lot of white in his beard !" thought he. " And is it
really quite the thing for you, prosperous, retired, twice
married, to be so hard on this tramp ? This poor, lonely,
feeble old man !"
" Look here, Belisaire," said he at last, with a kindli-
ness in his voice that the sharp ears of the old man were
quick to note, " how many weeks in the month are you
A growl was the only reply.
" Now, see here ! You're fond of the country, aren't
you ? Planting, watering, weeding, gathering fruit and
vegetables, smoking a pipe while you dig a little now
and then — that ought to suit you pretty well, eh ?"
" Oh, one might do worse ! . . ."
'' Well, would you like to have a job here for some
days ? If all goes well, we can come to some agreement.
I want someone to help me just now. There are such
a lot of little things to be done in the garden at this
season, that I cannot keep pace with them all. And I
have lately bought a couple of goats too: Til have to
rent a piece of meadow-land, and mow it. . . . You can
have a shake-down in the garret, an old coat from time
to time, five francs at the end of every month, and your
food, and I don't think that's at all a bad offer for a
man like you ! . . . But remember, if 3^ou make a
beast of yourself, if you come home drunk once too often,
out you go ! . . . An old man Hke you, full of rheu-
matism, and with a bad cough ! It's about time you
thought of settHng down, isn't it ? Well, what do you
10 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
say ? Yes, or no ? If no, then up to the poHce-station
you go for steaHng my plums ! If yes. 111 take you up
to the garret at once."
Belisaire saw in imagination a plate of hot soup for
him at a corner of the table ; a bed of his own in a garret
where one could through the little round window touch
the tiles, the topmost branches of the lime-trees, talk
to the cats and the birds. . . . This garden, too, ap-
pealed to him. . . . Not to mention that he was to be
allowed some little latitude ! . . . Overcome with
emotion, Belisaire sat down, touched to the heart by the
kindness that was being shown him, and Potterat under-
stood that he accepted the conditions.
" Come along then ! . . . To-morrow I'll show you
what to do."
So Belisaire took his place in the little household.
Quite a handy man in his way, he mended the tools,
repaired the canary's cage, and generally did his best to
make himself useful. Madame Potterat, however, in-
sisted on his taking an occasional bath in the Lake, and
gave him a towel and a piece of soap. Belisaire always
returned clean, but slightly drunk, and when they scolded
him, he replied gently: " Baths don't agree with me !"
Belisaire grew quite attached to the household — the very
way they pronounced his name showed a kindly feeling
towards him; they gave him some tobacco; Carlo smiled
at him from his cradle. Yet in spite of all this, he dis-
appeared once or twice, to come back, creeping in noise-
lessly, penitent, half starved, tearful: happy to find
himself once more before the big soup tureen, happy
even in the scoldings which showed he was cared for.
" Ha ! So there you are, you silly owl !" Potterat
would remark perhaps, and that was all. However, as
one ages, one grows tired of everything, even of roaming.
The tramp himself acknowledged this: he said to him-
POTTERAT AND THE WAR ii
*' To be a wanderer is all very well, up to about sixty.
. . . After that one ought to settle down. ..."
As November lessened the necessary work of the
garden, and Belisaire, with so much spare time on his
hands, was beginning to show signs of falling away again,
Potterat said to him one day:
" I say, suppose we put up a fowl-house ? . . . I
believe we could build a really good one between us . . .
like some of those model poultry houses one sees in cata-
logues. . . ."
" Right you are !"
Madame Potterat joined in the discussions : the chicken-
house appealed to her :
" I should like this design, I think," she said. " It
is very ornamental, yet quite rustic and simple."
" All right ! Leave it to us."
For some time the two men worked on it. They
plaited the thatch. They finished it off by painting
little green and white shutters on the outsides of the
house. An inclined plank led up to the front door,
and above this door was a shield, on which could be
read the motto " Liberty and Country." And below this
"The man who works, and the fowl that lays,
Are equally worthy of all men's praise."
A little fence marked off the boundaries of the poultry
domain. . . . When all was ready, they made a big
openwork crate, and with this on a handcart they set
off to buy their stock. Their return was heralded by
protesting squawks, continuous cacklings, energetic
quackings, etc., as the vehicle bumped over the stones
of the road.
" Here comes Barnum's Menagerie !" shouted some wit
of a passer-by.
" Yes, and if you want a job, there's still a vacancy
amongst the monkeys," retorted Potterat haughtily.
12 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
Belisaire stalked on, quite oblivious of these silly jokes,
his hands pushing the shafts, his scanty beard floating
on the wind, one eye half closed, his thin body enveloped
in an old overcoat, so faded that no one could tell the
original colour. The neighbours, Burnand, Griotte,
Bigarreau, watched the unpacking of the crate. The
ducks and drakes waddled out placidly, the turkeys
uttered wild, raucous cries, the ^eese promenaded along
gravely, their heads held high in air, the cock and hens
streamed along in a frightened procession. Schmid him-
self presently appeared on the scene. Half jealously, he
watched the proceedings, but made only one remark:
" You're wasting a lot of space over them. ..."
Enthusiastically, Potterat expounded his idea:
" Well, nothing annoys me more than to see the little
pigsties that some people think good enough for poultry.
. . . No, they need plenty of room, and a tree or two
for those who like a view . . . and a stream for the
ducks . . . and plenty of roosts of different heights for
the fowls. . . . Then you'll have plenty of good eggs.
. . . I'll guarantee them to be full weight and more . . .
and they'll have the taste of fresh air and sunshine and
health. . . . There are some eggs that are positively
unwholesome to eat, because the fowls are kept mewed
up in coops."
When the neighbours had gone, he said to his wife:
• " Did you hear Schmid ? Nothing but fault-finding
and objections. . . . He's the sort of man I simply
.can't stand. ..."
*' Do be quiet, David. For Louise's sake it's better to
say nothing. After all, each of you has his own garden.
. . . What's the good of letting him worry you ? Every-
one has his own way."
*' That's true; and I prefer mine."
As one knows, Potterat was a man of fixed opinions
and settled ways. On the first Sunday of every month
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 13
he always went to church: a matter of duty and habit.
It mattered Httle to him who happened to be preaching.
Seated on the last bench, in the shadow of the organ loft,
he listened to the droning of the preacher's voice, slept
a little generally, during the development of the preacher's
* secondly ' and ' thirdly,' then woke up in time to rise
and sing with the rest of the congregation. In summer,
how small the congregations were ! * Decidedly,' thought
Potterat, ' church is going out of fashion.' Outside, the
bustle of traffic, the smart toilettes which one could not
help seeing through the big plate-glass windows, which
had cost twenty francs the square yard, the various notes
of the motor horns, all said to the people seated on those
hard benches :
" What are you doing there ? . . . Come out and
enjoy yourselves."' While all the time the voice from
the pulpit upheld spiritual blessings as opposed to tem-
At the midday dinner, before a plate laden with beef
and vegetables, Potterat would give utterance to his
" Religion, nowadays, is a delicate matter. If you
preach the devil and hell fire, you shock people. . . .
If you say that everyone will be saved ... * Well, then,
what does it matter ? Here goes.' ... If you try to
combine the two points of view, they don't understand
what you're driving at. . . . Oh, it's jolly difficult. . . .
Then again, these aeroplanes, they don't help rehgion
much. . . . You see, all these flying men, they go right
up into the sky, and find nothing but clouds there. . . .
On the other hand, we are not exactly outside v/ith the
dogs, at least, not all of us. Religion is a good thing,
but it's hard to practise. Yet one must have it. The
great thing is, I should think, to know how to present
it: A description of beautiful scenery, which might well
be taken from our mountains, a country modelled on
14 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
our motto ' One for all, all for one ' . . . a word about