2 JULY 1948, Page 16



ARISTIDE tossed his policeman's cap on to the hat-rack, lowered himself into the barber's armchair and extended a pair of muscular gaiters. " Taille de cheveux. Taille de moustache," he said nonchalantly. " Shampooing, shave, alcohol, serviette chaude- everything ! "

" Everything ? " Jean-Felix picked up the scissors which he had dropped. " And the moustache also ? It has taken all winter to reach its present length. Fully ten centimetres from tip to tip."

" I am not a free man," said Aristide. " I have had my orders. It must go."

The barber was impressed. It was clearly an occasion, connected no doubt with the visit of foreign royalty. "Friction ordinaire ?" he suggested, eyes gleaming. "Thirty-five francs ? " "Friction superieure," ordered Aristide. " It is not I who will foot the bill."

Sergeant Louchet was detailed to attend the race meeting at Longchamp. Incognito, minus his moustache, wearing a navy-blue suit brought from headquarters in a suitcase, he would take up his position in front of the President's pavilion. He could not leave it to walk under the chestnuts to the betting kiosks. He could not leave it to obtain refreshment at the buffet. A colleague would take care of both problems. His task was to protect the royal guests.

The shop-door opened. In came Hercule Brochard, wrestler and widower, his muscles rippling under a'yellow cotton Loup de Mer. " How is it going with you ? " asked Aristide through the lather.

" I carry myself like Pont Neuf," replied Hercule, caressing a luxuriant moustache, waxed at the ends. " But this—bien dommage —it has to go."

" Go ? " Aristide sat up. " You, too, a chosen one ? "

" Today," announced Hercule. " I say this without fear of repeti- tion. I go temporarily into the ranks of the gendarmerie!'

" So ? " Jean-Felix stood with razor poised. " I understood that the police had already mustered six hundred physical culture experts and that your application had been turned down."

" Fortune has favoured me. I received word only yesterday that I am to replace my brother. A ligament strained on the vaulting- horse. A trifle, but it has incapacitated him."

" His loss is your gain," observed the barber, while Aristide laughed sardonically. A policeman does not lie on a bed of roses. Who knew it better than he ? " Myself," he bragged. " In the morning—special duty in the Rue St. Honore. In the afternoon- Longchamp. In the evening—Le Lapin Sur Le Toit."

"A full day," commented Jean-Felix, regarding Aristide's shorn upper lip critically.

" Tonight I become wine-waiter. Clothes provided. Supper and drinks included. The drawing of corks will present no difficulty, but some of my fellow sergeants have had to spend three days learning how to clear away plates. First plate in the left hand. Fork placed curve upwards, the knife at right angles. The second plate balanced on the wrist and the food scraped sideways on to the bottom plate. Believe me, we have had several breakages."

The barber shook with laughter, " Imagine it. To pay good money and to receive inferior service from policemen dressed as waiters." Aristide explained that the auxiliary attendance would be inflicted only on police inspectors and their wives dressed as diners. " Your turn, my brave one," he said encouragingly, giving up his seat to Hercule. " It is for France."

He admired his reflection in all the shop windows down Boul'

St. Germain. No longer was his chin blue with stubble. It was as smooth as—he had no difficulty in finding an appropriate simile. What a surprise for Ernestine! He let himself into the flat, tip-toed into the bedroom and buttoned himself into the racegoer's suit. Madame Ernestine was pouring soup into a tureen, the petite clinging to her knees. The radio was bleating out a dentifrice programme from Luxemburg. A waiter's shirt lay airing on a chair.. "Comme vous voila beau ! " exclaimed Madame, overcome ; then, rallying, she commented sarcastically on men who preened and prinked like children. At this point, the petite set up a noise like a motor horn, wailing "Papa! Papa ! " " Unrecognised by his child," declaimed Madame dramatically. " And all for the cause of duty."

Aristide set off in his lavender trilby, replete with good food and family affection. " Wait," called Madame over the iron banisters.

" You are forgetting the binoculars of Uncle Simon." The old woman at the corner shop who sold green lizards, goldfish and ants' eggs failed to greet him. The ticket-puncher at the Odeon Metro station omitted her customary badinage. "Formez vos bataillons," he sang lustily as he emerged at the Place de Verdun.

His heart lightened as he was whirled through the dappled Bois, past the Cascade, past the lower-priced section of the race-course to the entrance of the paddock. The sun was blazing hotly. Thou-

sands of spectators, unable to afford the admission fee, stood waiting in the road to cheer the royal guests. Through the open gates Aristide could see the camera-men poised over the pink geraniums of the President's tribune. He could see the jockeys and racehorses pushing among the crowds to be weighed in. At the pay kiosks there were at least six queues, each a hundred deep. Jostling to the head of the nearest, Aristide elbowed aside a man in indigo pin stripes. "Moi," he said apologetically but firmly. " Priorite." A roar went up. "Pas de prioriti," shouted an angry sportsman in fawn worsteds, reading Paris Turf. " A la queue." "He is, perhaps, a member of the Society for the Encouragement of the Amelioration of French Bloodstock," put in a conciliatory voice. " Zut, alors ! " The fawn gentleman snapped his fingers in Aristide's face. "To the end of the queue! "

Aristide's temper rose. He snatched a folder from his breast pocket and waved it aloft. "Regardez done. Priorite." The indigo racegoer passed his top-hat into the safe keeping of a neighbour and sprang on to Aristide's back. " Egalite," chorused the crowd. " Arrest the scelerat." The fawn man flung himself upon Aristide, en face, wrapping a foot round his right ankle and reaching for his tie. Aristide caught fire. It was his own tie. Pure silk. It had cost 35o francs. His fist was not slow in finding a target.

The three men were hurling insults, angry eyes too close to focus, when a policeman seized Aristide by the scruff of his elegant jacket. "Moi," cried Aristide passionately. "Prioriti."

" He need not come here with his priority," shrilled a woman under a bonnet trimmed with artificial corn. " We know his kind." As he was led away he put his fingers inside his lips, lowered his dentures and pulled a face of horrific violence. The crowd recoiled, shocked into silence. Six more agents rushed up, one wearing a scarlet cord under his armpit and gold braid on his cap. Pale with fury, Aristide recognised the long, Norman features of his superior, Valjean. Desperately, he pushed his priority document under his captor's nose. Regardez ma photo," he begged.

The policeman regarded. He saw Aristide a few years younger, in uniform, plus his moustache. Tears of anguish sprang to his eyes. " My dear old friend," he said brokenly. " In those garments I failed to identify you." Aristide's jaw dropped. "Hercule ? Clean shaven, in police breeches, you too are another man." " Some- one causes trouble ? " asked Valjean coldly, fixing them with a baleful blue eye. " What protection can we offer their Altesses if we employ imbeciles in_ the force ? Make out a deposition."

The question then arose as to who should write the report— Hercule, who, though in uniform, was a mere Judo.expert, or Aristide, who, though technically the offender, was after all a policeinan. ".Sit in the police car and make two reports," said Valjean impatiently. " I have work to do. If I am not vigilant the crowds will march on the lawns." And that was how Aristide lost his chance of pro- motion and Hercule jeopardised a friendship of twenty years' stand- ing. At the crucial moment they were sharing a leaking fountain- pen, writing down the names, christian names, dates and places of birth, of their four parents and eight grandparents. "Moi, Hercule Brochard, gendarme temporaire, revetu de mon uniforme, et dans l'exercice de mes fonctions. • . ." "Moi, Aristide Louchet, Sergent, en civil. . . ." A cheer went up, hoarse but enthusiastic.

" Name of a pipe moaned Aristide in anguish. " They are arrived." " Courage," said Hercule, embracing him affectionately. " Tonight when you serve the wine you will make up for today's deficiencies. Be tranquil. I should at this instant form a link in a living chain with my fellow wrestlers from the .Porte Clignancourt Club, but do I disturb myself ? " " You," said Aristide bitterly, " are not a member of the constabulary."