In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Ten

The cab rolled slowly over the Pont au Change, and the wretched horse fell into a walk as he painfully toiled up the hill of St Michel. Yvonne lay back in the corner; covered with all her own wraps and Gethryn’s overcoat, she shivered.

“Poor little Yvonne!” was all he said as he leaned over now and then to draw the cloak more closely around her. Not a sound but the rumble of the wheels and the wheezing of the old horse broke the silence. The streets were white and deserted. A few ragged flakes fell from the black vault above, or were shaken down from the crusted branches.

The cab stopped with a jolt. Yvonne was trembling as Rex lifted her to the ground, and he hurried her into the house, up the black stairway and into their cold room.

When he had a fire blazing in the grate, he looked around. She was kneeling on the floor beside a candle she had lighted, and her tears were pouring down upon the page of an open letter. Rex stepped over and touched her.

“Come to the fire.” He raised her gently, but she could not stand, and he carried her in his arms to the great soft chair before the grate. Then he knelt down and warmed her icy hands in his own. After a while he moved her chair back, and drawing off her dainty white slippers, wrapped her feet in the fur that lay heaped on the hearth. Then he unfastened the cloak and the domino, and rolling her gloves from elbow to wrist, slipped them over the helpless little hands. The firelight glanced and glowed on her throat and bosom, tingeing their marble with opalescent lights, and searching the deep shadows under her long lashes. It reached her hair, touching here and there a soft, dark wave, and falling aslant the knots of ribbon on her bare shoulders, tipped them with points of white fire.

“Is it so bad, dearest Yvonne?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must go?”

“Oh, yes!”

“When?”

“At daylight.”

Gethryn rose and went toward the door; he hesitated, came back and kissed her once on the forehead. When the door closed on him she wept as if her heart would break, hiding her head in her arms. He found her lying so when he returned, and, throwing down her traveling bag and rugs, he knelt and took her to his breast, kissing her again and again on the forehead. At last he had to speak.

“I have packed the things you will need most and will send the rest. It is getting light, dearest; you have to change your dress, you know.”

She roused herself and sat up, looking desolately about her.

“Forever!” she whispered.

“No! No!” cried Gethryn.

“Ah! oui, mon ami!”

Gethryn went and stood by the window. The bedroom door was closed.

Day was breaking. He opened the window and looked into the white street. Lamps burned down there with a sickly yellow; a faint light showed behind the barred windows of the old gray barracks. One or two stiff sparrows hopped silently about the gutters, flying up hurriedly when the frost-covered sentinel stamped his boots before the barracks gate. Now and then a half-starved workman limped past, his sabots echoing on the frozen pavement. A hooded and caped policeman, a red-faced cabman stamping beside his sleepy horse — the street was empty but for them.

It grew lighter. The top of St Sulpice burned crimson. Far off a bugle fluttered, and then came the tramp of the morning guard mount. They came stumbling across the stony court and leaned on their rifles while one of them presented arms and received the word from the sentry. Little by little people began to creep up and down the sidewalks, and the noise of wooden shutters announced another day of toil begun. The point of the Luxembourg Palace struck fire as the ghastly gas-lamps faded and went out. Suddenly the great bell of St Sulpice clashed the hour — Eight o’clock!

Again a bugle blew sharply from the barracks, and a troop of cavalry danced and pawed through the gate, clattering away down the Rue de Seine.

Gethryn shut the window and turned into the room. Yvonne stood before the dying embers. He went to her, almost timidly. Neither spoke. At last she took up her satchel and wrap.

“It is time,” she whispered. “Let us go.”

He clasped her once in his arms; she laid her cheek against his.

The train left Montparnasse station at nine. There was hardly anyone in the waiting room. The Guard flung back the grating.

“Vernon, par Chartres?” asked Gethryn.

“Vernon — Moulins — Chartres — direct!” shouted the Guard, and stamped off down the platform.

Gethryn showed his ticket which admitted him to the platform, and they walked slowly down the line of dismal-looking cars.

“This one?” and he opened a door.

She stood watching the hissing and panting engine, while Gethryn climbed in and placed her bags and rugs in a window corner. The car smelt damp and musty, and he stepped out with a choking sensation in his chest. A train man came along, closing doors with a slam.

“All aboard — ladies — gentlemen — voyageurs?” he growled, as if to himself or some familiar spirit, and jerked a sullen clang from the station bell. The engine panted impatiently.

Rex struggled against the constraint that seemed to be dividing them.

“Yvonne, you will write?”

“I don’t know!”

“You don’t know! Yvonne!”

“I know nothing except that I am wicked, and my mother is dying!” She said it in low, even tones, looking away from him.

The gong struck again, with a startling clash.

The engine shrieked; a cloud of steam rose from under the wheels. Rex hurried her into the carriage; there was no one else there. Suddenly she threw herself into his arms.

“Oh! I love you! I love you! One kiss, no; no; on the lips. Good-bye, my own Rex!”

“You will come again?” he said, crushing her to him.

Her eyes looked into his.

“I will come. I love you! Be true to me, Rex. I will come back.”

Her lover could not speak. Doors slamming, and an impatient voice — “Descendez donc, M’sieu!” — roused him; he sprang from the carriage, and the train rolled slowly out of the smoke-filled station.

How heavy the smoke was! Gethryn could hardly breathe — hardly see. He walked away and out into the street. The city was only half awake even yet. After, as it seemed, a long time, he found himself looking at a clock which said a quarter past ten. The winter sunshine slanted now on roof and pane, flooding the western side of the shabby boulevard, dappling the snow with yellow patches. He had stopped in the chilly shadow of a gateway and was looking vacantly about. He saw the sunshine across the street and shivered where he was, and yet he did not leave the shadow. He stood and watched the sparrows taking bold little baths in the puddles of melted snow water. They seemed to enjoy the sunshine, but it was cold in the shade, cold and damp — and the air was hard to breathe. A policeman sauntered by and eyed him curiously. Rex’s face was haggard and pinched. Why had he stood there in the cold for half an hour, without ever changing his weight from one foot to the other?

The policeman spoke at last, civilly:

“Monsieur!”

Gethryn turned his head.

“Is it that Monsieur seeks the train?” he asked, saluting.

Rex looked up. He had wandered back to the station. He lifted his hat and answered with the politeness dear to French officials.

“Merci, Monsieur!” It made him cough to speak, and he moved on slowly.

Gethryn would not go home yet. He wanted to be where there was plenty of cool air, and yet he shivered. He drew a deep breath which ended in a pain. How cold the air must be — to pain the chest like that! And yet, there were women wheeling handcarts full of yellow crocus buds about. He stopped and bought some for Yvonne.

“She will like them,” he thought. “Ah!” — he turned away, leaving flowers and money. The old flower-woman crossed herself.

No — he would not go home just yet. The sun shone brightly; men passed, carrying their overcoats on their arms; a steam was rising from the pavements in the Square.

There was a crowd on the Pont au Change. He did not see any face distinctly, but there seemed to be a great many people, leaning over the parapets, looking down the river. He stopped and looked over too. The sun glared on the foul water eddying in and out among the piles and barges. Some men were rowing in a boat, furiously. Another boat followed close. A voice close by Gethryn cried, angrily:

“Dieu! who are you shoving?”

Rex moved aside; as he did so a gamin crowded quickly forward and craned over the edge, shouting, “Vive le cadavre!”

“Chut!” said another voice.

“Vive la Mort! Vive la Morgue!” screamed the wretched little creature.

A policeman boxed his ears and pulled him back. The crowd laughed. The voice that had cried, “Chut!” said lower, “What a little devil, that Rigaud!”

Rex moved slowly on.

In the Court of the Louvre were people enough and to spare. Some of them bowed to him; several called him to turn and join them. He lifted his hat to them all, as if he knew them, but passed on without recognizing a soul. The broad pavements were warm and wet, but the air must have been sharp to hurt his chest so. The great pigeons of the Louvre brushed by him. It seemed as if he felt the beat of their wings on his brains. A shabby-looking fellow asked him for a sou — and, taking the coin Rex gave him, shuffled off in a hurry; a dog followed him, he stooped and patted it; a horse fell, he went into the street and helped to raise it. He said to a man standing by that the harness was too heavy — and the man, looking after him as he walked away, told a friend that there was another crazy foreigner.

Soon after this he found himself on the Quai again, and the sun was sinking behind the dome of the Invalides. He decided to go home. He wanted to get warm, and yet it seemed as if the air of a room would stifle him. However, once more he crossed the Seine, and as he turned in at his own gate he met Clifford, who said something, but Rex pushed past without trying to understand what it was.

He climbed the dreary old stairs and came to his silent studio. He sat down by the fireless hearth and gazed at a long, slender glove among the ashes. At his feet her little white satin slippers lay half hidden in the long white fur of the rug.

He felt giddy and weak, and that hard pain in his chest left him no peace. He rose and went into the bedroom. Her ball dress lay where she had thrown it. He flung himself on the bed and buried his face in the rustling silk. A faint odor of violets pervaded it. He thought of the bouquet that had been placed for her at the dinner. Then the flowers reminded him of last summer. He lived over again their gay life — their excursions to Meudon, Sceaux, Versailles with its warm meadows, and cool, dark forests; Fontainebleau, where they lunched under the trees; St Cloud — Oh! he remembered their little quarrel there, and how they made it up on the boat at Suresnes afterward.

He rose excitedly and went back into the studio; his cheeks were aflame and his breath came sharp and hard. In a corner, with its face to the wall, stood an old, unfinished portrait of Yvonne, begun after one of those idyllic summer days.

When Braith walked in, after three times knocking, he found Gethryn painting feverishly by the last glimmer of daylight on this portrait. The room was full of shadows, and while they spoke it grew quite dark.

That night Braith sat by his side and listened to his incoherent talk, and Dr White came and said “Pleuro-pneumonia” was what ailed him. Braith had his traps fetched from his own place and settled down to nurse him.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06