"Et tout les jours passés dans la tristesse
Nous sont comptés comme des jours heureux!"
The street is not fashionable, neither is it shabby. It is a pariah among streets--a street without a Quarter. It is generally understood to lie outside the pale of the aristocratic Avenue de l'Observatoire. The students of the Montparnasse Quarter consider it swell and will have none of it. The Latin Quarter, from the Luxembourg, its northern frontier, sneers at its respectability and regards with disfavour the correctly costumed students who haunt it. Few strangers go into it. At times, however, the Latin Quarter students use it as a thoroughfare between the rue de Rennes and the Bullier, but except for that and the weekly afternoon visits of parents and guardians to the Convent near the rue Vavin, the street of Our Lady of the Fields is as quiet as a Passy boulevard. Perhaps the most respectable portion lies between the rue de la Grande Chaumière and the rue Vavin, at least this was the conclusion arrived at by the Reverend Joel Byram, as he rambled through it with Hastings in charge. To Hastings the street looked pleasant in the bright June weather, and he had begun to hope for its selection when the Reverend Byram shied violently at the cross on the Convent opposite.
"Jesuits," he muttered.
"Well," said Hastings wearily, "I imagine we won't find anything better. You say yourself that vice is triumphant in Paris, and it seems to me that in every street we find Jesuits or something worse."
After a moment he repeated, "Or something worse, which of course I would not notice except for your kindness in warning me."
Dr. Byram sucked in his lips and looked about him. He was impressed by the evident respectability of the surroundings. Then frowning at the Convent he took Hastings' arm and shuffled across the street to an iron gateway which bore the number 201 bis painted in white on a blue ground. Below this was a notice printed in English:
Hastings touched the electric button three times, and they were ushered through the garden and into the parlour by a trim maid. The dining-room door, just beyond, was open, and from the table in plain view a stout woman hastily arose and came toward them. Hastings caught a glimpse of a young man with a big head and several snuffy old gentlemen at breakfast, before the door closed and the stout woman waddled into the room, bringing with her an aroma of coffee and a black poodle."
"It ees a plaisir to you receive!" she cried. "Monsieur is Anglish? No? Americain? Off course. My pension it ees for Americains surtout. Here all spik Angleesh, c'est à dire, ze personnel; ze sairvants do spik, plus ou moins, a little. I am happy to have you comme pensionnaires--"
"Madame," began Dr. Byram, but was cut short again.
"Ah, yess, I know, ah! mon Dieu! you do not spik Frainch but you have come to lairne! My husband does spik Frainch wiss ze pensionnaires. We have at ze moment a family Americaine who learn of my husband Frainch--"
Here the poodle growled at Dr. Byram and was promptly cuffed by his mistress.
"Veux tu!" she cried, with a slap, "veux tu! Oh! le vilain, oh! le vilain!"
"Mais, madame," said Hastings, smiling, "il n'a pas l'air très féroce."
The poodle fled, and his mistress cried, "Ah, ze accent charming! He does spik already Frainch like a Parisien young gentleman!"
Then Dr. Byram managed to get in a word or two and gathered more or less information with regard to prices.
"It ees a pension serieux; my clientèle ees of ze best, indeed a pension de famille where one ees at 'ome."
Then they went upstairs to examine Hastings' future quarters, test the bed-springs and arrange for the weekly towel allowance. Dr. Byram appeared satisfied.
Madame Marotte accompanied them to the door and rang for the maid, but as Hastings stepped out into the gravel walk, his guide and mentor paused a moment and fixed Madame with his watery eyes.
"You understand," he said, "that he is a youth of most careful bringing up, and his character and morals are without a stain. He is young and has never been abroad, never even seen a large city, and his parents have requested me, as an old family friend living in Paris, to see that he is placed under good influences. He is to study art, but on no account would his parents wish him to live in the Latin Quarter if they knew of the immorality which is rife there."
A sound like the click of a latch interrupted him and he raised his eyes, but not in time to see the maid slap the big-headed young man behind the parlour-door.
Madame coughed, cast a deadly glance behind her and then beamed on Dr. Byram.
"It ees well zat he come here. The pension more serious, il n'en existe pas, eet ees not any!" she announced with conviction.
So, as there was nothing more to add, Dr. Byram joined Hastings at the gate.
"I trust," he said, eyeing the Convent, "that you will make no acquaintances among Jesuits!"
Hastings looked at the Convent until a pretty girl passed before the gray façade, and then he looked at her. A young fellow with a paint-box and canvas came swinging along, stopped before the pretty girl, said something during a brief but vigorous handshake at which they both laughed, and he went his way, calling back, "À demain Valentine!" as in the same breath she cried, "À demain!"
"Valentine," thought Hastings, "what a quaint name;" and he started to follow the Reverend Joel Byram, who was shuffling towards the nearest tramway station.II
"An' you are pleas wiz Paris, Monsieur' Astang?" demanded Madame Marotte the next morning as Hastings came into the breakfast-room of the pension, rosy from his plunge in the limited bath above.
"I am sure I shall like it," he replied, wondering at his own depression of spirits.
The maid brought him coffee and rolls. He returned the vacant glance of the big-headed young man and acknowledged diffidently the salutes of the snuffy old gentlemen. He did not try to finish his coffee, and sat crumbling a roll, unconscious of the sympathetic glances of Madame Marotte, who had tact enough not to bother him.
Presently a maid entered with a tray on which were balanced two bowls of chocolate, and the snuffy old gentlemen leered at her ankles. The maid deposited the chocolate at a table near the window and smiled at Hastings. Then a thin young lady, followed by her counterpart in all except years, marched into the room and took the table near the window. They were evidently American, but Hastings, if he expected any sign of recognition, was disappointed. To be ignored by compatriots intensified his depression. He fumbled with his knife and looked at his plate.
The thin young lady was talkative enough. She was quite aware of Hastings' presence, ready to be flattered if he looked at her, but on the other hand she felt her superiority, for she had been three weeks in Paris and he, it was easy to see, had not yet unpacked his steamer-trunk.
Her conversation was complacent. She argued with her mother upon the relative merits of the Louvre and the Bon Marché, but her mother's part of the discussion was mostly confined to the observation, "Why, Susie!"
The snuffy old gentlemen had left the room in a body, outwardly polite and inwardly raging. They could not endure the Americans, who filled the room with their chatter.
The big-headed young man looked after them with a knowing cough, murmuring, "Gay old birds!"
"They look like bad old men, Mr. Bladen," said the girl.
To this Mr. Bladen smiled and said, "They've had their day," in a tone which implied that he was now having his.
"And that's why they all have baggy eyes," cried the girl. "I think it's a shame for young gentlemen--"
"Why, Susie!" said the mother, and the conversation lagged.
After a while Mr. Bladen threw down the Petit Journal, which he daily studied at the expense of the house, and turning to Hastings, started to make himself agreeable. He began by saying, "I see you are American."
To this brilliant and original opening, Hastings, deadly homesick, replied gratefully, and the conversation was judiciously nourished by observations from Miss Susie Byng distinctly addressed to Mr. Bladen. In the course of events Miss Susie, forgetting to address herself exclusively to Mr. Bladen, and Hastings replying to her general question, the entente cordiale was established, and Susie and her mother extended a protectorate over what was clearly neutral territory.
"Mr. Hastings, you must not desert the pension every evening as Mr. Bladen does. Paris is an awful place for young gentlemen, and Mr. Bladen is a horrid cynic."
Mr. Bladen looked gratified.
Hastings answered, "I shall be at the studio all day, and I imagine I shall be glad enough to come back at night."
Mr. Bladen, who, at a salary of fifteen dollars a week, acted as agent for the Pewly Manufacturing Company of Troy, N.Y., smiled a sceptical smile and withdrew to keep an appointment with a customer on the Boulevard Magenta.
Hastings walked into the garden with Mrs. Byng and Susie, and, at their invitation, sat down in the shade before the iron gate.
The chestnut trees still bore their fragrant spikes of pink and white, and the bees hummed among the roses, trellised on the white-walled house.
A faint freshness was in the air. The watering carts moved up and down the street, and a clear stream bubbled over the spotless gutters of the rue de la Grande Chaumière. The sparrows were merry along the curb-stones, taking bath after bath in the water and ruffling their feathers with delight. In a walled garden across the street a pair of blackbirds whistled among the almond trees.
Hastings swallowed the lump in his throat, for the song of the birds and the ripple of water in a Paris gutter brought back to him the sunny meadows of Millbrook.
"That's a blackbird," observed Miss Byng; "see him there on the bush with pink blossoms. He's all black except his bill, and that looks as if it had been dipped in an omelet, as some Frenchman says--"
"Why, Susie!" said Mrs. Byng.
"That garden belongs to a studio inhabited by two Americans," continued the girl serenely, "and I often see them pass. They seem to need a great many models, mostly young and feminine--"
"Perhaps they prefer painting that kind, but I don't see why they should invite five, with three more young gentlemen, and all get into two cabs and drive away singing. This street," she continued, "is dull. There is nothing to see except the garden and a glimpse of the Boulevard Montparnasse through the rue de la Grande Chaumière. No one ever passes except a policeman. There is a convent on the corner."
"I thought it was a Jesuit College," began Hastings, but was at once overwhelmed with a Baedecker description of the place, ending with, "On one side stand the palatial hotels of Jean Paul Laurens and Guillaume Bouguereau, and opposite, in the little Passage Stanislas, Carolus Duran paints the masterpieces which charm the world."
The blackbird burst into a ripple of golden throaty notes, and from some distant green spot in the city an unknown wild-bird answered with a frenzy of liquid trills until the sparrows paused in their ablutions to look up with restless chirps.
Then a butterfly came and sat on a cluster of heliotrope and waved his crimson-banded wings in the hot sunshine. Hastings knew him for a friend, and before his eyes there came a vision of tall mulleins and scented milkweed alive with painted wings, a vision of a white house and woodbine-covered piazza,--a glimpse of a man reading and a woman leaning over the pansy bed,--and his heart was full. He was startled a moment later by Miss Byng.
"I believe you are homesick!" Hastings blushed. Miss Byng looked at him with a sympathetic sigh and continued: "Whenever I felt homesick at first I used to go with mamma and walk in the Luxembourg Gardens. I don't know why it is, but those old-fashioned gardens seemed to bring me nearer home than anything in this artificial city."
"But they are full of marble statues," said Mrs. Byng mildly; "I don't see the resemblance myself."
"Where is the Luxembourg?" inquired Hastings after a silence.
"Come with me to the gate," said Miss Byng. He rose and followed her, and she pointed out the rue Vavin at the foot of the street.
"You pass by the convent to the right," she smiled; and Hastings went.III
The Luxembourg was a blaze of flowers. He walked slowly through the long avenues of trees, past mossy marbles and old-time columns, and threading the grove by the bronze lion, came upon the tree-crowned terrace above the fountain. Below lay the basin shining in the sunlight. Flowering almonds encircled the terrace, and, in a greater spiral, groves of chestnuts wound in and out and down among the moist thickets by the western palace wing. At one end of the avenue of trees the Observatory rose, its white domes piled up like an eastern mosque; at the other end stood the heavy palace, with every window-pane ablaze in the fierce sun of June.
Around the fountain, children and white-capped nurses armed with bamboo poles were pushing toy boats, whose sails hung limp in the sunshine. A dark policeman, wearing red epaulettes and a dress sword, watched them for a while and then went away to remonstrate with a young man who had unchained his dog. The dog was pleasantly occupied in rubbing grass and dirt into his back while his legs waved into the air.
The policeman pointed at the dog. He was speechless with indignation.
"Well, Captain," smiled the young fellow.
"Well, Monsieur Student," growled the policeman.
"What do you come and complain to me for?"
"If you don't chain him I'll take him," shouted the policeman.
"What's that to me, mon capitaine?"
"Wha--t! Isn't that bull-dog yours?"
"If it was, don't you suppose I'd chain him?"
The officer glared for a moment in silence, then deciding that as he was a student he was wicked, grabbed at the dog, who promptly dodged. Around and around the flower-beds they raced, and when the officer came too near for comfort, the bull-dog cut across a flower-bed, which perhaps was not playing fair.
The young man was amused, and the dog also seemed to enjoy the exercise.
The policeman noticed this and decided to strike at the fountain-head of the evil. He stormed up to the student and said, "As the owner of this public nuisance I arrest you!"
"But," objected the other, "I disclaim the dog."
That was a poser. It was useless to attempt to catch the dog until three gardeners lent a hand, but then the dog simply ran away and disappeared in the rue de Medici.
The policeman shambled off to find consolation among the white-capped nurses, and the student, looking at his watch, stood up yawning. Then catching sight of Hastings, he smiled and bowed. Hastings walked over to the marble, laughing.
"Why, Clifford," he said, "I didn't recognize you."
"It's my moustache," sighed the other. "I sacrificed it to humour a whim of--of--a friend. What do you think of my dog?"
"Then he is yours?" cried Hastings.
"Of course. It's a pleasant change for him, this playing tag with policemen, but he is known now and I'll have to stop it. He's gone home. He always does when the gardeners take a hand. It's a pity; he's fond of rolling on lawns." Then they chatted for a moment of Hastings' prospects, and Clifford politely offered to stand his sponsor at the studio.
"You see, old tabby, I mean Dr. Byram, told me about you before I met you," explained Clifford, "and Elliott and I will be glad to do anything we can." Then looking at his watch again, he muttered, "I have just ten minutes to catch the Versailles train; au revoir," and started to go, but catching sight of a girl advancing by the fountain, took off his hat with a confused smile.
"Why are you not at Versailles?" she said, with an almost imperceptible acknowledgment of Hastings' presence.
"I--I'm going," murmured Clifford.
For a moment they faced each other, and then Clifford, very red, stammered, "With your permission I have the honour of presenting to you my friend, Monsieur Hastings."
Hastings bowed low. She smiled very sweetly, but there was something of malice in the quiet inclination of her small Parisienne head.
"I could have wished," she said, "that Monsieur Clifford might spare me more time when he brings with him so charming an American."
"Must--must I go, Valentine?" began Clifford.
"Certainly," she replied.
Clifford took his leave with very bad grace, wincing, when she added, "And give my dearest love to Cécile!" As he disappeared in the rue d'Assas, the girl turned as if to go, but then suddenly remembering Hastings, looked at him and shook her head.
"Monsieur Clifford is so perfectly harebrained," she smiled, "it is embarrassing sometimes. You have heard, of course, all about his success at the Salon?"
He looked puzzled and she noticed it.
"You have been to the Salon, of course?"
"Why, no," he answered, "I only arrived in Paris three days ago."
She seemed to pay little heed to his explanation, but continued: "Nobody imagined he had the energy to do anything good, but on varnishing day the Salon was astonished by the entrance of Monsieur Clifford, who strolled about as bland as you please with an orchid in his buttonhole, and a beautiful picture on the line."
She smiled to herself at the reminiscence, and looked at the fountain.
"Monsieur Bouguereau told me that Monsieur Julian was so astonished that he only shook hands with Monsieur Clifford in a dazed manner, and actually forgot to pat him on the back! Fancy," she continued with much merriment, "fancy papa Julian forgetting to pat one on the back."
Hastings, wondering at her acquaintance with the great Bouguereau, looked at her with respect. "May I ask," he said diffidently, "whether you are a pupil of Bouguereau?"
"I?" she said in some surprise. Then she looked at him curiously. Was he permitting himself the liberty of joking on such short acquaintance?
His pleasant serious face questioned hers.
"Tiens," she thought, "what a droll man!"
"You surely study art?" he said.
She leaned back on the crooked stick of her parasol, and looked at him. "Why do you think so?"
"Because you speak as if you did."
"You are making fun of me," she said, "and it is not good taste."
She stopped, confused, as he coloured to the roots of his hair.
"How long have you been in Paris?" she said at length.
"Three days," he replied gravely.
"But--but--surely you are not a nouveau! You speak French too well!"
Then after a pause, "Really are you a nouveau?"
"I am," he said.
She sat down on the marble bench lately occupied by Clifford, and tilting her parasol over her small head looked at him.
"I don't believe it."
He felt the compliment, and for a moment hesitated to declare himself one of the despised. Then mustering up his courage, he told her how new and green he was, and all with a frankness which made her blue eyes open very wide and her lips part in the sweetest of smiles.
"You have never seen a studio?"
"Nor a model?"
"How funny," she said solemnly. Then they both laughed.
"And you," he said, "have seen studios?"
"And you know Bouguereau?"
"Yes, and Henner, and Constant and Laurens, and Puvis de Chavannes and Dagnan and Courtois, and--and all the rest of them!"
"And yet you say you are not an artist."
"Pardon," she said gravely, "did I say I was not?"
"Won't you tell me?" he hesitated.
At first she looked at him, shaking her head and smiling, then of a sudden her eyes fell and she began tracing figures with her parasol in the gravel at her feet. Hastings had taken a place on the seat, and now, with his elbows on his knees, sat watching the spray drifting above the fountain jet. A small boy, dressed as a sailor, stood poking his yacht and crying, "I won't go home! I won't go home!" His nurse raised her hands to Heaven.
"Just like a little American boy," thought Hastings, and a pang of homesickness shot through him.
Presently the nurse captured the boat, and the small boy stood at bay.
"Monsieur René, when you decide to come here you may have your boat."
The boy backed away scowling.
"Give me my boat, I say," he cried, "and don't call me René, for my name's Randall and you know it!"
"Hello!" said Hastings,--"Randall?--that's English."
"I am American," announced the boy in perfectly good English, turning to look at Hastings, "and she's such a fool she calls me René because mamma calls me Ranny--"
Here he dodged the exasperated nurse and took up his station behind Hastings, who laughed, and catching him around the waist lifted him into his lap.
"One of my countrymen," he said to the girl beside him. He smiled while he spoke, but there was a queer feeling in his throat.
"Don't you see the stars and stripes on my yacht?" demanded Randall. Sure enough, the American colours hung limply under the nurse's arm.
"Oh," cried the girl, "he is charming," and impulsively stooped to kiss him, but the infant Randall wriggled out of Hastings' arms, and his nurse pounced upon him with an angry glance at the girl.
She reddened and then bit her lips as the nurse, with eyes still fixed on her, dragged the child away and ostentatiously wiped his lips with her handkerchief.
Then she stole a look at Hastings and bit her lip again.
"What an ill-tempered woman!" he said. "In America, most nurses are flattered when people kiss their children."
For an instant she tipped the parasol to hide her face, then closed it with a snap and looked at him defiantly.
"Do you think it strange that she objected?"
"Why not?" he said in surprise.
Again she looked at him with quick searching eyes.
His eyes were clear and bright, and he smiled back, repeating, "Why not?"
"You are droll," she murmured, bending her head.
But she made no answer, and sat silent, tracing curves and circles in the dust with her parasol. After a while he said--"I am glad to see that young people have so much liberty here. I understood that the French were not at all like us. You know in America--or at least where I live in Milbrook, girls have every liberty,--go out alone and receive their friends alone, and I was afraid I should miss it here. But I see how it is now, and I am glad I was mistaken."
She raised her eyes to his and kept them there.
He continued pleasantly--"Since I have sat here I have seen a lot of pretty girls walking alone on the terrace there,--and then you are alone too. Tell me, for I do not know French customs,--do you have the liberty of going to the theatre without a chaperone?"
For a long time she studied his face, and then with a trembling smile said, "Why do you ask me?"
"Because you must know, of course," he said gaily.
"Yes," she replied indifferently, "I know."
He waited for an answer, but getting none, decided that perhaps she had misunderstood him.
"I hope you don't think I mean to presume on our short acquaintance," he began,--"in fact it is very odd but I don't know your name. When Mr. Clifford presented me he only mentioned mine. Is that the custom in France?"
"It is the custom in the Latin Quarter," she said with a queer light in her eyes. Then suddenly she began talking almost feverishly.
"You must know, Monsieur Hastings, that we are all un peu sans gêne here in the Latin Quarter. We are very Bohemian, and etiquette and ceremony are out of place. It was for that Monsieur Clifford presented you to me with small ceremony, and left us together with less,--only for that, and I am his friend, and I have many friends in the Latin Quarter, and we all know each other very well--and I am not studying art, but--but--"
"But what?" he said, bewildered.
"I shall not tell you,--it is a secret," she said with an uncertain smile. On both cheeks a pink spot was burning, and her eyes were very bright.
Then in a moment her face fell. "Do you know Monsieur Clifford very intimately?"
After a while she turned to him, grave and a little pale.
"My name is Valentine--Valentine Tissot. Might--might I ask a service of you on such very short acquaintance?"
"Oh," he cried, "I should be honoured."
"It is only this," she said gently, "it is not much. Promise me not to speak to Monsieur Clifford about me. Promise me that you will speak to no one about me."
"I promise," he said, greatly puzzled.
She laughed nervously. "I wish to remain a mystery. It is a caprice."
"But," he began, "I had wished, I had hoped that you might give Monsieur Clifford permission to bring me, to present me at your house."
"My--my house!" she repeated.
"I mean, where you live, in fact, to present me to your family."
The change in the girl's face shocked him.
"I beg your pardon," he cried, "I have hurt you."
And as quick as a flash she understood him because she was a woman.
"My parents are dead," she said.
Presently he began again, very gently.
"Would it displease you if I beg you to receive me? It is the custom?"
"I cannot," she answered. Then glancing up at him, "I am sorry; I should like to; but believe me. I cannot."
He bowed seriously and looked vaguely uneasy.
"It isn't because I don't wish to. I--I like you; you are very kind to me."
"Kind?" he cried, surprised and puzzled.
"I like you," she said slowly, "and we will see each other sometimes if you will."
"At friends' houses."
"No, not at friends' houses."
"Here," she said with defiant eyes.
"Why," he cried, "in Paris you are much more liberal in your views than we are."
She looked at him curiously.
"Yes, we are very Bohemian."
"I think it is charming," he declared.
"You see, we shall be in the best of society," she ventured timidly, with a pretty gesture toward the statues of the dead queens, ranged in stately ranks above the terrace.
He looked at her, delighted, and she brightened at the success of her innocent little pleasantry.
"Indeed," she smiled, "I shall be well chaperoned, because you see we are under the protection of the gods themselves; look, there are Apollo, and Juno, and Venus, on their pedestals," counting them on her small gloved fingers, "and Ceres, Hercules, and--but I can't make out--"
Hastings turned to look up at the winged god under whose shadow they were seated.
"Why, it's Love," he said.IV
"There is a nouveau here," drawled Laffat, leaning around his easel and addressing his friend Bowles, "there is a nouveau here who is so tender and green and appetizing that Heaven help him if he should fall into a salad bowl."
"Hayseed?" inquired Bowles, plastering in a background with a broken palette-knife and squinting at the effect with approval.
"Yes, Squeedunk or Oshkosh, and how he ever grew up among the daisies and escaped the cows, Heaven alone knows!"
Bowles rubbed his thumb across the outlines of his study to "throw in a little atmosphere," as he said, glared at the model, pulled at his pipe and finding it out struck a match on his neighbour's back to relight it.
"His name," continued Laffat, hurling a bit of bread at the hat-rack, "his name is Hastings. He is a berry. He knows no more about the world,"--and here Mr. Laffat's face spoke volumes for his own knowledge of that planet,--"than a maiden cat on its first moonlight stroll."
Bowles now having succeeded in lighting his pipe, repeated the thumb touch on the other edge of the study and said, "Ah!"
"Yes," continued his friend, "and would you imagine it, he seems to think that everything here goes on as it does in his d----d little backwoods ranch at home; talks about the pretty girls who walk alone in the street; says how sensible it is; and how French parents are misrepresented in America; says that for his part he finds French girls,--and he confessed to only knowing one,--as jolly as American girls. I tried to set him right, tried to give him a pointer as to what sort of ladies walk about alone or with students, and he was either too stupid or too innocent to catch on. Then I gave it to him straight, and he said I was a vile-minded fool and marched off."
"Did you assist him with your shoe?" inquired Bowles, languidly interested.
"He called you a vile-minded fool."
"He was correct," said Clifford from his easel in front.
"What--what do you mean?" demanded Laffat, turning red.
"That," replied Clifford.
"Who spoke to you? Is this your business?" sneered Bowles, but nearly lost his balance as Clifford swung about and eyed him.
"Yes," he said slowly, "it's my business."
No one spoke for some time.
Then Clifford sang out, "I say, Hastings!"
And when Hastings left his easel and came around, he nodded toward the astonished Laffat.
"This man has been disagreeable to you, and I want to tell you that any time you feel inclined to kick him, why, I will hold the other creature."
Hastings, embarrassed, said, "Why no, I don't agree with his ideas, nothing more."
Clifford said "Naturally," and slipping his arm through Hastings', strolled about with him, and introduced him to several of his own friends, at which all the nouveaux opened their eyes with envy, and the studio were given to understand that Hastings, although prepared to do menial work as the latest nouveau, was already within the charmed circle of the old, respected and feared, the truly great.
The rest finished, the model resumed his place, and work went on in a chorus of songs and yells and every ear-splitting noise which the art student utters when studying the beautiful.
Five o'clock struck,--the model yawned, stretched and climbed into his trousers, and the noisy contents of six studios crowded through the hall and down into the street. Ten minutes later, Hastings found himself on top of a Montrouge tram, and shortly afterward was joined by Clifford.
They climbed down at the rue Gay Lussac.
"I always stop here," observed Clifford, "I like the walk through the Luxembourg."
"By the way," said Hastings, "how can I call on you when I don't know where you live?"
"Why, I live opposite you."
"What--the studio in the garden where the almond trees are and the blackbirds--"
"Exactly," said Clifford. "I'm with my friend Elliott."
Hastings thought of the description of the two American artists which he had heard from Miss Susie Byng, and looked blank.
Clifford continued, "Perhaps you had better let me know when you think of coming so,--so that I will be sure to--to be there," he ended rather lamely.
"I shouldn't care to meet any of your model friends there," said Hastings, smiling. "You know--my ideas are rather straitlaced,--I suppose you would say, Puritanical. I shouldn't enjoy it and wouldn't know how to behave."
"Oh, I understand," said Clifford, but added with great cordiality,--"I'm sure we'll be friends although you may not approve of me and my set, but you will like Severn and Selby because--because, well, they are like yourself, old chap."
After a moment he continued, "There is something I want to speak about. You see, when I introduced you, last week, in the Luxembourg, to Valentine--"
"Not a word!" cried Hastings, smiling; "you must not tell me a word of her!"
"No--not a word!" he said gaily. "I insist,--promise me upon your honour you will not speak of her until I give you permission; promise!"
"I promise," said Clifford, amazed.
"She is a charming girl,--we had such a delightful chat after you left, and I thank you for presenting me, but not another word about her until I give you permission."
"Oh," murmured Clifford.
"Remember your promise," he smiled, as he turned into his gateway.
Clifford strolled across the street and, traversing the ivy-covered alley, entered his garden.
He felt for his studio key, muttering, "I wonder--I wonder,--but of course he doesn't!"
He entered the hallway, and fitting the key into the door, stood staring at the two cards tacked over the panels.
RICHARD OSBORNE ELLIOTT
"Why the devil doesn't he want me to speak of her?"
He opened the door, and, discouraging the caresses of two brindle bull-dogs, sank down on the sofa.
Elliott sat smoking and sketching with a piece of charcoal by the window.
"Hello," he said without looking around.
Clifford gazed absently at the back of his head, murmuring, "I'm afraid, I'm afraid that man is too innocent. I say, Elliott," he said, at last, "Hastings,--you know the chap that old Tabby Byram came around here to tell us about--the day you had to hide Colette in the armoire--"
"Yes, what's up?"
"Oh, nothing. He's a brick."
"Yes," said Elliott, without enthusiasm.
"Don't you think so?" demanded Clifford.
"Why yes, but he is going to have a tough time when some of his illusions are dispelled."
"More shame to those who dispel 'em!"
"Yes,--wait until he comes to pay his call on us, unexpectedly, of course--"
Clifford looked virtuous and lighted a cigar.
"I was just going to say," he observed, "that I have asked him not to come without letting us know, so I can postpone any orgie you may have intended--"
"Ah!" cried Elliott indignantly, "I suppose you put it to him in that way."
"Not exactly," grinned Clifford. Then more seriously, "I don't want anything to occur here to bother him. He's a brick, and it's a pity we can't be more like him."
"I am," observed Elliott complacently, "only living with you--"
"Listen!" cried the other. "I have managed to put my foot in it in great style. Do you know what I've done? Well--the first time I met him in the street,--or rather, it was in the Luxembourg, I introduced him to Valentine!"
"Did he object?"
"Believe me," said Clifford, solemnly, "this rustic Hastings has no more idea that Valentine is--is--in fact is Valentine, than he has that he himself is a beautiful example of moral decency in a Quarter where morals are as rare as elephants. I heard enough in a conversation between that blackguard Loffat and the little immoral eruption, Bowles, to open my eyes. I tell you Hastings is a trump! He's a healthy, clean-minded young fellow, bred in a small country village, brought up with the idea that saloons are way-stations to hell--and as for women--"
"Well?" demanded Elliott
"Well," said Clifford, "his idea of the dangerous woman is probably a painted Jezabel."
"Probably," replied the other.
"He's a trump!" said Clifford, "and if he swears the world is as good and pure as his own heart, I'll swear he's right."
Elliott rubbed his charcoal on his file to get a point and turned to his sketch saying, "He will never hear any pessimism from Richard Osborne E."
"He's a lesson to me," said Clifford. Then he unfolded a small perfumed note, written on rose-coloured paper, which had been lying on the table before him.
He read it, smiled, whistled a bar or two from "Miss Helyett," and sat down to answer it on his best cream-laid note-paper. When it was written and sealed, he picked up his stick and marched up and down the studio two or three times, whistling.
"Going out?" inquired the other, without turning.
"Yes," he said, but lingered a moment over Elliott's shoulder, watching him pick out the lights in his sketch with a bit of bread.
"To-morrow is Sunday," he observed after a moment's silence.
"Well?" inquired Elliott.
"Have you seen Colette?"
"No, I will to-night. She and Rowden and Jacqueline are coming to Boulant's. I suppose you and, Cécile will be there?"
"Well, no," replied Clifford. "Cécile dines at home to-night, and I--I had an idea of going to Mignon's."
Elliott looked at him with disapproval.
"You can make all the arrangements for La Roche without me," he continued, avoiding Elliott's eyes.
"What are you up to now?"
"Nothing," protested Clifford.
"Don't tell me," replied his chum, with scorn; "fellows don't rush off to Mignon's when the set dine at Boulant's. Who is it now?--but no, I won't ask that,--what's the use!" Then he lifted up his voice in complaint and beat upon the table with his pipe. "What's the use of ever trying to keep track of you? What will Cécile say,--oh, yes, what will she say? It's a pity you can't be constant two months, yes, by Jove! and the Quarter is indulgent, but you abuse its good nature and mine too!"
Presently he arose, and jamming his hat on his head, marched to the door.
"Heaven alone knows why any one puts up with your antics, but they all do and so do I. If I were Cécile or any of the other pretty fools after whom you have toddled and will, in all human probabilities, continue to toddle, I say, if I were Cécile I'd spank you! Now I'm going to Boulant's, and as usual I shall make excuses for you and arrange the affair, and I don't care a continental where you are going, but, by the skull of the studio skeleton! if you don't turn up to-morrow with your sketching-kit under one arm and Cécile under the other,--if you don't turn up in good shape, I'm done with you, and the rest can think what they please. Good-night."
Clifford said good-night with as pleasant a smile as he could muster, and then sat down with his eyes on the door. He took out his watch and gave Elliott ten minutes to vanish, then rang the concierge's call, murmuring, "Oh dear, oh dear, why the devil do I do it?"
"Alfred," he said, as that gimlet-eyed person answered the call, "make yourself clean and proper, Alfred, and replace your sabots with a pair of shoes. Then put on your best hat and take this letter to the big white house in the Rue de Dragon. There is no answer, mon petit Alfred."
The concierge departed with a snort in which unwillingness for the errand and affection for M. Clifford were blended. Then with great care the young fellow arrayed himself in all the beauties of his and Elliott's wardrobe. He took his time about it, and occasionally interrupted his toilet to play his banjo or make pleasing diversion for the bull-dogs by gambling about on all fours. "I've got two hours before me," he thought, and borrowed a pair of Elliott's silken foot-gear, with which he and the dogs played ball until he decided to put them on. Then he lighted a cigarette and inspected his dress-coat. When he had emptied it of four handkerchiefs, a fan, and a pair of crumpled gloves as long as his arm, he decided it was not suited to add éclat to his charms and cast about in his mind for a substitute. Elliott was too thin, and, anyway, his coats were now under lock and key. Rowden probably was as badly off as himself. Hastings! Hastings was the man! But when he threw on a smoking-jacket and sauntered over to Hastings' house, he was informed that he had been gone over an hour.
"Now, where in the name of all that's reasonable could he have gone!" muttered Clifford, looking down the street.
The maid didn't know, so he bestowed upon her a fascinating smile and lounged back to the studio.
Hastings was not far away. The Luxembourg is within five minutes' walk of the rue Notre Dame des Champs, and there he sat under the shadow of a winged god, and there he had sat for an hour, poking holes in the dust and watching the steps which lead from the northern terrace to the fountain. The sun hung, a purple globe, above the misty hills of Meudon. Long streamers of clouds touched with rose swept low on the western sky, and the dome of the distant Invalides burned like an opal through the haze. Behind the Palace the smoke from a high chimney mounted straight into the air, purple until it crossed the sun, where it changed to a bar of smouldering fire. High above the darkening foliage of the chestnuts the twin towers of St. Sulpice rose, an ever-deepening silhouette.
A sleepy blackbird was carolling in some near thicket, and pigeons passed and repassed with the whisper of soft winds in their wings. The light on the Palace windows had died away, and the dome of the Pantheon swam aglow above the northern terrace, a fiery Valhalla in the sky; while below in grim array, along the terrace ranged, the marble ranks of queens looked out into the west.
From the end of the long walk by the northern façade of the Palace came the noise of omnibuses and the cries of the street. Hastings looked at the Palace clock. Six, and as his own watch agreed with it, he fell to poking holes in the gravel again. A constant stream of people passed between the Odéon and the fountain. Priests in black, with silver-buckled shoes; line soldiers, slouchy and rakish; neat girls without hats bearing milliners' boxes, students with black portfolios and high hats, students with bérets and big canes, nervous, quick-stepping officers, symphonies in turquoise and silver; ponderous jangling cavalrymen all over dust, pastry cooks' boys skipping along with utter disregard for the safety of the basket balanced on the impish head, and then the lean outcast, the shambling Paris tramp, slouching with shoulders bent and little eye furtively scanning the ground for smokers' refuse;--all these moved in a steady stream across the fountain circle and out into the city by the Odeon, whose long arcades were now beginning to flicker with gas-jets. The melancholy bells of St Sulpice struck the hour and the clock-tower of the Palace lighted up. Then hurried steps sounded across the gravel and Hastings raised his head.
"How late you are," he said, but his voice was hoarse and only his flushed face told how long had seemed the waiting.
She said, "I was kept--indeed, I was so much annoyed--and--and I may only stay a moment."
She sat down beside him, casting a furtive glance over her shoulder at the god upon his pedestal.
"What a nuisance, that intruding cupid still there?"
"Wings and arrows too," said Hastings, unheeding her motion to be seated.
"Wings," she murmured, "oh, yes--to fly away with when he's tired of his play. Of course it was a man who conceived the idea of wings, otherwise Cupid would have been insupportable."
"Do you think so?"
"Ma foi, it's what men think."
"Oh," she said, with a toss of her small head, "I really forget what we were speaking of."
"We were speaking of love," said Hastings.
"I was not," said the girl. Then looking up at the marble god, "I don't care for this one at all. I don't believe he knows how to shoot his arrows--no, indeed, he is a coward;--he creeps up like an assassin in the twilight. I don't approve of cowardice," she announced, and turned her back on the statue.
"I think," said Hastings quietly, "that he does shoot fairly--yes, and even gives one warning."
"Is it your experience, Monsieur Hastings?"
He looked straight into her eyes and said, "He is warning me."
"Heed the warning then," she cried, with a nervous laugh. As she spoke she stripped off her gloves, and then carefully proceeded to draw them on again. When this was accomplished she glanced at the Palace clock, saying, "Oh dear, how late it is!" furled her umbrella, then unfurled it, and finally looked at him.
"No," he said, "I shall not heed his warning."
"Oh dear," she sighed again, "still talking about that tiresome statue!" Then stealing a glance at his face, "I suppose--I suppose you are in love."
"I don't know," he muttered, "I suppose I am."
She raised her head with a quick gesture. "You seem delighted at the idea," she said, but bit her lip and trembled as his eyes met hers. Then sudden fear came over her and she sprang up, staring into the gathering shadows.
"Are you cold?" he said.
But she only answered, "Oh dear, oh dear, it is late--so late! I must go--good-night."
She gave him her gloved hand a moment and then withdrew it with a start.
"What is it?" he insisted. "Are you frightened?"
She looked at him strangely.
"No--no--not frightened,--you are very good to me--"
"By Jove!" he burst out, "what do you mean by saying I'm good to you? That's at least the third time, and I don't understand!"
The sound of a drum from the guard-house at the palace cut him short. "Listen," she whispered, "they are going to close. It's late, oh, so late!"
The rolling of the drum came nearer and nearer, and then the silhouette of the drummer cut the sky above the eastern terrace. The fading light lingered a moment on his belt and bayonet, then he passed into the shadows, drumming the echoes awake. The roll became fainter along the eastern terrace, then grew and grew and rattled with increasing sharpness when he passed the avenue by the bronze lion and turned down the western terrace walk. Louder and louder the drum sounded, and the echoes struck back the notes from the grey palace wall; and now the drummer loomed up before them--his red trousers a dull spot in the gathering gloom, the brass of his drum and bayonet touched with a pale spark, his epaulettes tossing on his shoulders. He passed leaving the crash of the drum in their ears, and far into the alley of trees they saw his little tin cup shining on his haversack. Then the sentinels began the monotonous cry: "On ferme! on ferme!" and the bugle blew from the barracks in the rue de Tournon.
"On ferme! on ferme!"
"Good-night," she whispered, "I must return alone to-night."
He watched her until she reached the northern terrace, and then sat down on the marble seat until a hand on his shoulder and a glimmer of bayonets warned him away.
She passed on through the grove, and turning into the rue de Medici, traversed it to the Boulevard. At the corner she bought a bunch of violets and walked on along the Boulevard to the rue des Écoles. A cab was drawn up before Boulant's, and a pretty girl aided by Elliott jumped out.
"Valentine!" cried the girl, "come with us!"
"I can't," she said, stopping a moment--"I have a rendezvous at Mignon's."
"Not Victor?" cried the girl, laughing, but she passed with a little shiver, nodding good-night, then turning into the Boulevard St. Germain, she walked a tittle faster to escape a gay party sitting before the Café Cluny who called to her to join them. At the door of the Restaurant Mignon stood a coal-black negro in buttons. He took off his peaked cap as she mounted the carpeted stairs.
"Send Eugene to me," she said at the office, and passing through the hallway to the right of the dining-room stopped before a row of panelled doors. A waiter passed and she repeated her demand for Eugene, who presently appeared, noiselessly skipping, and bowed murmuring, "Madame."
"Who is here?"
"No one in the cabinets, madame; in the half Madame Madelon and Monsieur Gay, Monsieur de Clamart, Monsieur Clisson, Madame Marie and their set." Then he looked around and bowing again murmured, "Monsieur awaits madame since half an hour," and he knocked at one of the panelled doors bearing the number six.
Clifford opened the door and the girl entered.
The garçon bowed her in, and whispering, "Will Monsieur have the goodness to ring?" vanished.
He helped her off with her jacket and took her hat and umbrella. When she was seated at the little table with Clifford opposite she smiled and leaned forward on both elbows looking him in the face.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"Waiting," he replied, in accents of adoration.
For an instant she turned and examined herself in the glass. The wide blue eyes, the curling hair, the straight nose and short curled lip flashed in the mirror an instant only, and then its depths reflected her pretty neck and back. "Thus do I turn my back on vanity," she said, and then leaning forward again, "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you," repeated Clifford, slightly troubled.
"Now don't, Valentine--"
"Do you know," she said calmly, "I dislike your conduct?"
He was a little disconcerted, and rang for Eugene to cover his confusion.
The soup was bisque, and the wine Pommery, and the courses followed each other with the usual regularity until Eugene brought coffee, and there was nothing left on the table but a small silver lamp.
"Valentine," said Clifford, after having obtained permission to smoke, "is it the Vaudeville or the Eldorado--or both, or the Nouveau Cirque, or--"
"It is here," said Valentine.
"Well," he said, greatly flattered, "I'm afraid I couldn't amuse you--"
"Oh, yes, you are funnier than the Eldorado."
"Now see here, don't guy me, Valentine. You always do, and, and,--you know what they say,--a good laugh kills--"
"Er--er--love and all that."
She laughed until her eyes were moist with tears. "Tiens," she cried, "he is dead, then!"
Clifford eyed her with growing alarm.
"Do you know why I came?" she said.
"No," he replied uneasily, "I don't."
"How long have you made love to me?"
"Well," he admitted, somewhat startled,--"I should say,--for about a year."
"It is a year, I think. Are you not tired?"
He did not answer.
"Don't you know that I like you too well to--to ever fall in love with you?" she said. "Don't you know that we are too good comrades,--too old friends for that? And were we not,--do you think that I do not know your history, Monsieur Clifford?"
"Don't be--don't be so sarcastic," he urged; "don't be unkind, Valentine."
"I'm not. I'm kind. I'm very kind,--to you and to Cécile."
"Cécile is tired of me."
"I hope she is," said the girl, "for she deserves a better fate. Tiens, do you know your reputation in the Quarter? Of the inconstant, the most inconstant,--utterly incorrigible and no more serious than a gnat on a summer night. Poor Cécile!"
Clifford looked so uncomfortable that she spoke more kindly.
"I like you. You know that. Everybody does. You are a spoiled child here. Everything is permitted you and every one makes allowance, but every one cannot be a victim to caprice."
"Caprice!" he cried. "By Jove, if the girls of the Latin Quarter are not capricious--"
"Never mind,--never mind about that! You must not sit in judgment--you of all men. Why are you here to-night? Oh," she cried, "I will tell you why! Monsieur receives a little note; he sends a little answer; he dresses in his conquering raiment--"
"I don't," said Clifford, very red.
"You do, and it becomes you," she retorted with a faint smile. Then again, very quietly, "I am in your power, but I know I am in the power of a friend. I have come to acknowledge it to you here,--and it is because of that that I am here to beg of you--a--a favour."
Clifford opened his eyes, but said nothing.
"I am in--great distress of mind. It is Monsieur Hastings."
"Well?" said Clifford, in some astonishment.
"I want to ask you," she continued in a low voice, "I want to ask you to--to--in case you should speak of me before him,--not to say,--not to say,--"
"I shall not speak of you to him," he said quietly.
"Can--can you prevent others?"
"I might if I was present. May I ask why?"
"That is not fair," she murmured; "you know how--how he considers me,--as he considers every woman. You know how different he is from you and the rest. I have never seen a man,--such a man as Monsieur Hastings."
He let his cigarette go out unnoticed.
"I am almost afraid of him--afraid he should know--what we all are in the Quarter. Oh, I do not wish him to know! I do not wish him to--to turn from me--to cease from speaking to me as he does! You--you and the rest cannot know what it has been to me. I could not believe him,--I could not believe he was so good and--and noble. I do not wish him to know--so soon. He will find out--sooner or later, he will find out for himself, and then he will turn away from me. Why!" she cried passionately, "why should he turn from me and not from you?"
Clifford, much embarrassed, eyed his cigarette.
The girl rose, very white. "He is your friend--you have a right to warn him."
"He is my friend," he said at length.
They looked at each other in silence.
Then she cried, "By all that I hold to me most sacred, you need not warn him!"
"I shall trust your word," he said pleasantly.V
The month passed quickly for Hastings, and left few definite impressions after it. It did leave some, however. One was a painful impression of meeting Mr. Bladen on the Boulevard des Capucines in company with a very pronounced young person whose laugh dismayed him, and when at last he escaped from the café where Mr. Bladen had hauled him to join them in a bock he felt as if the whole boulevard was looking at him, and judging him by his company. Later, an instinctive conviction regarding the young person with Mr. Bladen sent the hot blood into his cheek, and he returned to the pension in such a miserable state of mind that Miss Byng was alarmed and advised him to conquer his homesickness at once.
Another impression was equally vivid. One Saturday morning, feeling lonely, his wanderings about the city brought him to the Gare St. Lazare. It was early for breakfast, but he entered the Hôtel Terminus and took a table near the window. As he wheeled about to give his order, a man passing rapidly along the aisle collided with his head, and looking up to receive the expected apology, he was met instead by a slap on the shoulder and a hearty, "What the deuce are you doing here, old chap?" It was Rowden, who seized him and told him to come along. So, mildly protesting, he was ushered into a private dining-room where Clifford, rather red, jumped up from the table and welcomed him with a startled air which was softened by the unaffected glee of Rowden and the extreme courtesy of Elliott. The latter presented him to three bewitching girls who welcomed him so charmingly and seconded Rowden in his demand that Hastings should make one of the party, that he consented at once. While Elliott briefly outlined the projected excursion to La Roche, Hastings delightedly ate his omelet, and returned the smiles of encouragement from Cécile and Colette and Jacqueline. Meantime Clifford in a bland whisper was telling Rowden what an ass he was. Poor Rowden looked miserable until Elliott, divining how affairs were turning, frowned on Clifford and found a moment to let Rowden know that they were all going to make the best of it.
"You shut up," he observed to Clifford, "it's fate, and that settles it."
"It's Rowden, and that settles it," murmured Clifford, concealing a grin. For after all he was not Hastings' wet nurse. So it came about that the train which left the Gare St. Lazare at 9.15 a.m. stopped a moment in its career towards Havre and deposited at the red-roofed station of La Roche a merry party, armed with sunshades, trout-rods, and one cane, carried by the non-combatant, Hastings. Then, when they had established their camp in a grove of sycamores which bordered the little river Ept, Clifford, the acknowledged master of all that pertained to sportsmanship, took command.
"You, Rowden," he said, "divide your flies with Elliott and keep an eye on him or else he'll be trying to put on a float and sinker. Prevent him by force from grubbing about for worms."
Elliott protested, but was forced to smile in the general laugh.
"You make me ill," he asserted; "do you think this is my first trout?"
"I shall be delighted to see your first trout," said Clifford, and dodging a fly hook, hurled with intent to hit, proceeded to sort and equip three slender rods destined to bring joy and fish to Cécil, Colette, and Jacqueline. With perfect gravity he ornamented each line with four split shot, a small hook, and a brilliant quill float.
"I shall never touch the worms," announced Cécile with a shudder.
Jacqueline and Colette hastened to sustain her, and Hastings pleasantly offered to act in the capacity of general baiter and taker-off of fish. But Cécile, doubtless fascinated by the gaudy flies in Clifford's book, decided to accept lessons from him in the true art, and presently disappeared up the Ept with Clifford in tow.
Elliott looked doubtfully at Colette.
"I prefer gudgeons," said that damsel with decision, "and you and Monsieur Rowden may go away when you please; may they not, Jacqueline?"
"Certainly," responded Jacqueline.
Elliott, undecided, examined his rod and reel.
"You've got your reel on wrong side up," observed Rowden.
Elliott wavered, and stole a glance at Colette.
"I--I--have almost decided to--er--not to flip the flies about just now," he began. "There's the pole that Cécile left--"
"Don't call it a pole," corrected Rowden.
"Rod, then," continued Elliott, and started off in the wake of the two girls, but was promptly collared by Rowden.
"No, you don't! Fancy a man fishing with a float and sinker when he has a fly rod in his hand! You come along!"
Where the placid little Ept flows down between its thickets to the Seine, a grassy bank shadows the haunt of the gudgeon, and on this bank sat Colette and Jacqueline and chattered and laughed and watched the swerving of the scarlet quills, while Hastings, his hat over his eyes, his head on a bank of moss, listened to their soft voices and gallantly unhooked the small and indignant gudgeon when a flash of a rod and a half-suppressed scream announced a catch. The sunlight filtered through the leafy thickets awaking to song the forest birds. Magpies in spotless black and white flirted past, alighting near by with a hop and bound and twitch of the tail. Blue and white jays with rosy breasts shrieked through the trees, and a low-sailing hawk wheeled among the fields of ripening wheat, putting to flight flocks of twittering hedge birds.
Across the Seine a gull dropped on the water like a plume. The air was pure and still. Scarcely a leaf moved. Sounds from a distant farm came faintly, the shrill cock-crow and dull baying. Now and then a steam-tug with big raking smoke-pipe, bearing the name "Guêpe 27," ploughed up the river dragging its interminable train of barges, or a sailboat dropped down with the current toward sleepy Rouen.
A faint fresh odour of earth and water hung in the air, and through the sunlight, orange-tipped butterflies danced above the marsh grass, soft velvety butterflies flapped through the mossy woods.
Hastings was thinking of Valentine. It was two o'clock when Elliott strolled back, and frankly admitting that he had eluded Rowden, sat down beside Colette and prepared to doze with satisfaction.
"Where are your trout?" said Colette severely.
"They still live," murmured Elliott, and went fast asleep.
Rowden returned shortly after, and casting a scornful glance at the slumbering one, displayed three crimson-flecked trout.
"And that," smiled Hastings lazily, "that is the holy end to which the faithful plod,--the slaughter of these small fish with a bit of silk and feather."
Rowden disdained to answer him. Colette caught another gudgeon and awoke Elliott, who protested and gazed about for the lunch baskets, as Clifford and Cécile came up demanding instant refreshment. Cécile's skirts were soaked, and her gloves torn, but she was happy, and Clifford, dragging out a two-pound trout, stood still to receive the applause of the company.
"Where the deuce did you get that?" demanded Elliott.
Cécile, wet and enthusiastic, recounted the battle, and then Clifford eulogized her powers with the fly, and, in proof, produced from his creel a defunct chub, which, he observed, just missed being a trout.
They were all very happy at luncheon, and Hastings was voted "charming." He enjoyed it immensely,--only it seemed to him at moments that flirtation went further in France than in Millbrook, Connecticut, and he thought that Cécile might be a little less enthusiastic about Clifford, that perhaps it would be quite as well if Jacqueline sat further away from Rowden, and that possibly Colette could have, for a moment at least, taken her eyes from Elliott's face. Still he enjoyed it--except when his thoughts drifted to Valentine, and then he felt that he was very far away from her. La Roche is at least an hour and a half from Paris. It is also true that he felt a happiness, a quick heart-beat when, at eight o'clock that night the train which bore them from La Roche rolled into the Gare St. Lazare and he was once more in the city of Valentine.
"Good-night," they said, pressing around him. "You must come with us next time!"
He promised, and watched them, two by two, drift into the darkening city, and stood so long that, when again he raised his eyes, the vast Boulevard was twinkling with gas-jets through which the electric lights stared like moons.VI
It was with another quick heart-beat that he awoke next morning, for his first thought was of Valentine.
The sun already gilded the towers of Notre Dame, the clatter of workmen's sabots awoke sharp echoes in the street below, and across the way a blackbird in a pink almond tree was going into an ecstasy of trills.
He determined to awake Clifford for a brisk walk in the country, hoping later to beguile that gentleman into the American church for his soul's sake. He found Alfred the gimlet-eyed washing the asphalt walk which led to the studio.
"Monsieur Elliott?" he replied to the perfunctory inquiry, "je ne sais pas."
"And Monsieur Clifford," began Hastings, somewhat astonished.
"Monsieur Clifford," said the concierge with fine irony, "will be pleased to see you, as he retired early; in fact he has just come in."
Hastings hesitated while the concierge pronounced a fine eulogy on people who never stayed out all night and then came battering at the lodge gate during hours which even a gendarme held sacred to sleep. He also discoursed eloquently upon the beauties of temperance, and took an ostentatious draught from the fountain in the court.
"I do not think I will come in," said Hastings.
"Pardon, monsieur," growled the concierge, "perhaps it would be well to see Monsieur Clifford. He possibly needs aid. Me he drives forth with hair-brushes and boots. It is a mercy if he has not set fire to something with his candle."
Hastings hesitated for an instant, but swallowing his dislike of such a mission, walked slowly through the ivy-covered alley and across the inner garden to the studio. He knocked. Perfect silence. Then he knocked again, and this time something struck the door from within with a crash.
"That," said the concierge, "was a boot." He fitted his duplicate key into the lock and ushered Hastings in. Clifford, in disordered evening dress, sat on the rug in the middle of the room. He held in his hand a shoe, and did not appear astonished to see Hastings.
"Good-morning, do you use Pears' soap?" he inquired with a vague wave of his hand and a vaguer smile.
Hastings' heart sank. "For Heaven's sake," he said, "Clifford, go to bed."
"Not while that--that Alfred pokes his shaggy head in here an' I have a shoe left."
Hastings blew out the candle, picked up Clifford's hat and cane, and said, with an emotion he could not conceal, "This is terrible, Clifford,--I--never knew you did this sort of thing."
"Well, I do," said Clifford.
"Where is Elliott?"
"Ole chap," returned Clifford, becoming maudlin, "Providence which feeds--feeds--er--sparrows an' that sort of thing watcheth over the intemperate wanderer--"
"Where is Elliott?"
But Clifford only wagged his head and waved his arm about. "He's out there,--somewhere about." Then suddenly feeling a desire to see his missing chum, lifted up his voice and howled for him.
Hastings, thoroughly shocked, sat down on the lounge without a word. Presently, after shedding several scalding tears, Clifford brightened up and rose with great precaution.
"Ole chap," he observed, "do you want to see er--er miracle? Well, here goes. I'm goin' to begin."
He paused, beaming at vacancy.
"Er miracle," he repeated.
Hastings supposed he was alluding to the miracle of his keeping his balance, and said nothing.
"I'm goin' to bed," he announced, "poor ole Clifford's goin' to bed, an' that's er miracle!"
And he did with a nice calculation of distance and equilibrium which would have rung enthusiastic yells of applause from Elliott had he been there to assist en connaisseur. But he was not. He had not yet reached the studio. He was on his way, however, and smiled with magnificent condescension on Hastings, who, half an hour later, found him reclining upon a bench in the Luxembourg. He permitted himself to be aroused, dusted and escorted to the gate. Here, however, he refused all further assistance, and bestowing a patronizing bow upon Hastings, steered a tolerably true course for the rue Vavin.
Hastings watched him out of sight, and then slowly retraced his steps toward the fountain. At first he felt gloomy and depressed, but gradually the clear air of the morning lifted the pressure from his heart, and he sat down on the marble seat under the shadow of the winged god.
The air was fresh and sweet with perfume from the orange flowers. Everywhere pigeons were bathing, dashing the water over their iris-hued breasts, flashing in and out of the spray or nestling almost to the neck along the polished basin. The sparrows, too, were abroad in force, soaking their dust-coloured feathers in the limpid pool and chirping with might and main. Under the sycamores which surrounded the duck-pond opposite the fountain of Marie de Medici, the water-fowl cropped the herbage, or waddled in rows down the bank to embark on some solemn aimless cruise.
Butterflies, somewhat lame from a chilly night's repose under the lilac leaves, crawled over and over the white phlox, or took a rheumatic flight toward some sun-warmed shrub. The bees were already busy among the heliotrope, and one or two grey flies with brick-coloured eyes sat in a spot of sunlight beside the marble seat, or chased each other about, only to return again to the spot of sunshine and rub their fore-legs, exulting.
The sentries paced briskly before the painted boxes, pausing at times to look toward the guard-house for their relief.
They came at last, with a shuffle of feet and click of bayonets, the word was passed, the relief fell out, and away they went, crunch, crunch, across the gravel.
A mellow chime floated from the clock-tower of the palace, the deep bell of St. Sulpice echoed the stroke. Hastings sat dreaming in the shadow of the god, and while he mused somebody came and sat down beside him. At first he did not raise his head. It was only when she spoke that he sprang up.
"You! At this hour?"
"I was restless, I could not sleep." Then in a low, happy voice--"And you! at this hour?"
"I--I slept, but the sun awoke me."
"I could not sleep," she said, and her eyes seemed, for a moment, touched with an indefinable shadow. Then, smiling, "I am so glad--I seemed to know you were coming. Don't laugh, I believe in dreams."
"Did you really dream of,--of my being here?"
"I think I was awake when I dreamed it," she admitted. Then for a time they were mute, acknowledging by silence the happiness of being together. And after all their silence was eloquent, for faint smiles, and glances born of their thoughts, crossed and recrossed, until lips moved and words were formed, which seemed almost superfluous. What they said was not very profound. Perhaps the most valuable jewel that fell from Hastings' lips bore direct reference to breakfast.
"I have not yet had my chocolate," she confessed, "but what a material man you are."
"Valentine," he said impulsively, "I wish,--I do wish that you would,--just for this once,--give me the whole day,--just for this once."
"Oh dear," she smiled, "not only material, but selfish!"
"Not selfish, hungry," he said, looking at her.
"A cannibal too; oh dear!"
"Will you, Valentine?"
"But my chocolate--"
"Take it with me."
"Together, at St. Cloud."
"But I can't--"
"Together,--all day,--all day long; will you, Valentine?"
She was silent.
"Only for this once."
Again that indefinable shadow fell across her eyes, and when it was gone she sighed. "Yes,--together, only for this once."
"All day?" he said, doubting his happiness.
"All day," she smiled; "and oh, I am so hungry!"
He laughed, enchanted.
"What a material young lady it is."
On the Boulevard St. Michel there is a Crémerie painted white and blue outside, and neat and clean as a whistle inside. The auburn-haired young woman who speaks French like a native, and rejoices in the name of Murphy, smiled at them as they entered, and tossing a fresh napkin over the zinc tête-à-tête table, whisked before them two cups of chocolate and a basket full of crisp, fresh croissons.
The primrose-coloured pats of butter, each stamped with a shamrock in relief, seemed saturated with the fragrance of Normandy pastures.
"How delicious!" they said in the same breath, and then laughed at the coincidence.
"With but a single thought," he began.
"How absurd!" she cried with cheeks all rosy. "I'm thinking I'd like a croisson."
"So am I," he replied triumphant, "that proves it."
Then they had a quarrel; she accusing him of behaviour unworthy of a child in arms, and he denying it, and bringing counter charges, until Mademoiselle Murphy laughed in sympathy, and the last croisson was eaten under a flag of truce. Then they rose, and she took his arm with a bright nod to Mile. Murphy, who cried them a merry: "Bonjour, madame! bonjour, monsieur!" and watched them hail a passing cab and drive away. "Dieu! qu'il est beau," she sighed, adding after a moment, "Do they be married, I dunno,--ma foi ils ont bien l'air."
The cab swung around the rue de Medici, turned into the rue de Vaugirard, followed it to where it crosses the rue de Rennes, and taking that noisy thoroughfare, drew up before the Gare Montparnasse. They were just in time for a train and scampered up the stairway and out to the cars as the last note from the starting-gong rang through the arched station. The guard slammed the door of their compartment, a whistle sounded, answered by a screech from the locomotive, and the long train glided from the station, faster, faster, and sped out into the morning sunshine. The summer wind blew in their faces from the open window, and sent the soft hair dancing on the girl's forehead.
"We have the compartment to ourselves," said Hastings.
She leaned against the cushioned window-seat, her eyes bright and wide open, her lips parted. The wind lifted her hat, and fluttered the ribbons under her chin. With a quick movement she untied them, and, drawing a long hat-pin from her hat, laid it down on the seat beside her. The train was flying.
The colour surged in her cheeks, and, with each quick-drawn breath, her breath rose and fell under the cluster of lilies at her throat. Trees, houses, ponds, danced past, cut by a mist of telegraph poles.
"Faster! faster!" she cried.
His eyes never left her, but hers, wide open, and blue as the summer sky, seemed fixed on something far ahead,--something which came no nearer, but fled before them as they fled.
Was it the horizon, cut now by the grim fortress on the hill, now by the cross of a country chapel? Was it the summer moon, ghost-like, slipping through the vaguer blue above?
"Faster! faster!" she cried.
Her parted lips burned scarlet.
The car shook and shivered, and the fields streamed by like an emerald torrent. He caught the excitement, and his faced glowed.
"Oh," she cried, and with an unconscious movement caught his hand, drawing him to the window beside her. "Look! lean out with me!"
He only saw her lips move; her voice was drowned in the roar of a trestle, but his hand closed in hers and he clung to the sill. The wind whistled in their ears. "Not so far out, Valentine, take care!" he gasped.
Below, through the ties of the trestle, a broad river flashed into view and out again, as the train thundered along a tunnel, and away once more through the freshest of green fields. The wind roared about them. The girl was leaning far out from the window, and he caught her by the waist, crying, "Not too far!" but she only murmured, "Faster! faster! away out of the city, out of the land, faster, faster! away out of the world!"
"What are you saying all to yourself?" he said, but his voice was broken, and the wind whirled it back into his throat.
She heard him, and, turning from the window looked down at his arm about her. Then she raised her eyes to his. The car shook and the windows rattled. They were dashing through a forest now, and the sun swept the dewy branches with running flashes of fire. He looked into her troubled eyes; he drew her to him and kissed the half-parted lips, and she cried out, a bitter, hopeless cry, "Not that--not that!"
But he held her close and strong, whispering words of honest love and passion, and when she sobbed--"Not that--not that--I have promised! You must--you must know--I am--not--worthy--" In the purity of his own heart her words were, to him, meaningless then, meaningless for ever after. Presently her voice ceased, and her head rested on his breast. He leaned against the window, his ears swept by the furious wind, his heart in a joyous tumult. The forest was passed, and the sun slipped from behind the trees, flooding the earth again with brightness. She raised her eyes and looked out into the world from the window. Then she began to speak, but her voice was faint, and he bent his head close to hers and listened. "I cannot turn from you; I am too weak. You were long ago my master--master of my heart and soul. I have broken my word to one who trusted me, but I have told you all;--what matters the rest?" He smiled at her innocence and she worshipped his. She spoke again: "Take me or cast me away;--what matters it? Now with a word you can kill me, and it might be easier to die than to look upon happiness as great as mine."
He took her in his arms, "Hush, what are you saying? Look,--look out at the sunlight, the meadows and the streams. We shall be very happy in so bright a world."
She turned to the sunlight. From the window, the world below seemed very fair to her.
Trembling with happiness, she sighed: "Is this the world? Then I have never known it"
"Nor have I, God forgive me," he murmured.
Perhaps it was our gentle Lady of the Fields who forgave them both.