In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Fifteen

Supper was over, evening had fallen; but there would be no music tonight under the beech tree; the sky was obscured by clouds and a wet wind was blowing.

Mrs Dene and Ruth were crossing the hall; Gethryn came in at the front door and they met.

“Well?” said Rex, forcing a smile.

“Well,” said Ruth. “Mademoiselle Descartes is better. Madame will bring her down stairs by and by. It appears that wretched peasant who drove them has been carrying them about for hours from one inn to another, stopping to drink at all of them. No wonder they were tired out with the worry and his insolence!”

“It appears Miss Descartes has had attacks of fainting like this more than once before. The doctor in Paris thinks there is some weakness of the heart, but forbids her being told,” said Mrs Dene.

Ruth interposed quickly, not looking at Gethryn:

“Papa and Monsieur Bordier, where are they?”

“I left them visiting Federl and Sepp in their quarters.”

“Well, you will find us in that dreadful little room yonder. It’s the only alternative to sitting in the Bauernstube with all the woodchoppers and their bad tobacco, since out of doors fails us. We must go now and make it as pleasant as we can.”

Ruth made a motion to go, but Mrs Dene lingered. Her kind eyes, her fair little faded face, were troubled.

“Madame Bordier says the young lady tells her she has met you before, Rex.”

“Yes, in Paris”; for his life he could not have kept down the crimson flush that darkened his cheeks and made his temples throb.

Mrs Dene’s manner grew a little colder.

“She seems very nice. You knew her people, of course.”

“No, I never met any of her people,” answered Rex, feeling like a kicked coward. Ruth interposed once more.

“People!” said Ruth, impatiently. “Of course Rex only knows nice people. Come, mother!”

Putting her arm around the old lady, she moved across the hall with decision. As they passed into the cheerless little room, Rex held open the door. Ruth, entering after her mother, looked in his face. It had grown thinner; shadows were deep in the temples; from the dark circles under the eyes to the chin ran a line of pain. She held out her hand to him. He bent and kissed it.

He went and stood in the porch, trying to collect his thoughts. The idea of this meeting between Ruth and Yvonne was insupportable. Why had he not taken means — any, every means to prevent it? He cursed himself. He called himself a coward. He wondered how much Ruth divined. The thought shamed him until his cheeks burned again. And all the while a deep undercurrent of feeling was setting toward that drooping little figure in black, as he had seen it for a moment when she alighted from the carriage and was supported to a room upstairs. Heavens! How it reminded him of that first day in the Place de la Concorde! Why was she in mourning? What did the doctor mean by “weakness of the heart”? What was she doing on mountaintops, and on the stage of a theater if she had heart disease? He started with a feeling that he must go and put a stop to all this folly. Then he remembered the letter. She had told him another man had the right to care for her. Then she was at this moment deserted for the second time, as well as faithless to still another lover! — to how many more? And it was through him that a woman of such a life was brought into contact with Ruth! And Ruth’s parents had trusted him; they thought him a gentleman. His brain reeled.

The surging waves of shame and self-contempt subsided, were forgotten. He heard the wind sough in the Luxembourg trees, he smelled the pink flowering chestnuts, a soft voice was in his ear, a soft touch on his arm, her breath on his cheek, the old, old faces came crowding up. Clifford’s laugh rang faintly, Braith’s grave voice; odd bits and ends of song floated out from the shadows of that past and through the troubled dream of face and laugh and music, so long, so long passed away, he heard the gentle voice of Yvonne: “Rex, Rex, be true to me; I will come back!”

“I loved her!” he muttered.

There was a stir, a door opened and shut, voices and steps sounded in the room on his left. He leaned forward a little and looked through the uncurtained window.

It was a bare and dingy room containing only a table, some hard chairs, and an old “Flügel” piano with a long inlaid case.

They sat together at the table. Ruth’s back was toward him; she was speaking. Yvonne was in the full light. Her eyes were cast down, and she was nervously plaiting the edge of her little black-bordered handkerchief. All at once she raised her eyes and looked straight at the window. How blue her eyes were!

Rex dropped his face in his hands.

“Oh God! I love her!” he groaned.

“Gute Nacht, gnädige Herrn!”

Sepp and Federl stood in their door with a light. Two figures were coming down from the Jaeger’s cottage. Gethryn recognized the colonel and Monsieur Bordier.

At the risk of scrutiny from those cool, elderly, masculine eyes, Rex’s manhood pulled itself together. He went back to meet them, and presently they all joined the ladies in the apology for a parlor, where coffee was being served.

Coming in after the older men, Rex found no place left in the little, crowded room, excepting one at the table close beside Yvonne. Ruth was on the other side. He went and took the place, self-possessed and smiling.

Yvonne made a slight motion as if to rise and escape. Only Rex saw it. Yes, one more: Ruth saw it.

“Mademoiselle has studied seriously since I had the honor — ”

“Oui, Monsieur.”

Her faint voice and timid look were more than Ruth could bear. She leaned forward so as to shield the girl as much as possible, and entered into the lively talk at the other end of the table.

Rex spoke again: “Mademoiselle is quite strong, I trust — the stage — Sugar? Allow me! — As I was saying, the stage is a calling which requires a good constitution.” No answer.

“But pardon. If you are not strong, how can you expect to succeed in your career?” persisted Rex. His eyes rested on one frail wrist in its black sleeve. The sight filled him with anger.

“I would make my debut if I knew it would kill me.” She spoke at last, low but clearly.

“But why? Mon Dieu!”

“Madame has set her heart on it. She thinks I shall do her credit. She has been good to me, so good!” The sad voice fainted and sank away.

“One is good to one’s pupils when they are going to bring one fame,” said Rex bitterly.

“Madame took me when she did not know I had a voice — when she thought I was dying — when I was homeless — two years ago.”

“What do you mean?” said Rex sternly, sinking his voice below the pitch of the general conversation. “What did you tell me in your letter? Homeless!”

“I never wrote you any letter.” Yvonne raised her blue eyes, startled, despairing, and looked into his for the first time.

“You did not write that you had found a — a home which you preferred to — to — any you had ever had? And that it would be useless to — to offer you any other?”

“I never wrote. I was very ill and could not. Afterward I went to — you. You were gone.” Her low voice was heartbreaking to hear.

“When?” Rex could hardly utter a word.

“In June, as soon as I left the hospital.”

“The hospital? And your mother?”

“She was dead. I did not see her. Then I was very ill, a long time. As soon as I could, I went to Paris.”

“To me?”

“Yes.”

“And the letter?”

“Ah!” cried Yvonne with a shudder. “It must have been my sister who did that!”

The room was turning round. A hundred lights were swaying about in a crowd of heads. Rex laid his hand heavily on the table to steady himself. With a strong effort at self-control he had reduced the number of lights to two and got the people back in their places when, with a little burst of French exclamations and laughter, everyone turned to Yvonne, and Ruth, bending over her, took both her hands.

The next moment Monsieur Bordier was leading her to the piano.

A soft chord, other chords, deep and sweet, and then the dear voice:

Oui c’est un rêve,

Un rêve doux d’amour,

La nuit lui prête son mystére

The chain is forged again. The mists of passion rise thickly, heavily, and blot out all else forever.

Hélène’s song ceased. He heard them praise her, and heard “Good nights” and “Au revoirs” exchanged. He rose and stood near the door. Ruth passed him like a shadow. They all remained at the foot of the stairs for a moment, repeating their “Adieus” and “Remerciements.” He was utterly reckless, but cool enough still to watch for his chance in this confusion of civilities. It came; for one instant he could whisper to her, “I must see you tonight.” Then the voices were gone and he stood alone on the porch, the wet wind blowing in his face, his face turned up to a heavy sky covered with black, driving clouds. He could hear the river and the moaning of the trees.

It seemed as if he had stood there for hours, never moving. Then there was a step in the dark hall, on the threshold, and Yvonne lay trembling in his arms.

The sky was beginning to show a tint of early dawn when they stepped once more upon the silent porch. The wind had gone down. Clouds were piled up in the west, but the east was clear. Perfect stillness was over everything. Not a living creature was in sight, excepting that far up, across the stream, Sepp and Zimbach were climbing toward the Schinder.

“I must go in now. I must you — child!” said Yvonne in her old voice, smoothing her hair with both hands. Rex held her back.

“My wife?” he said.

“Yes!” She raised her face and kissed him on the lips, then clung to him weeping.

“Hush! hush! It is I who should do that,” he murmured, pressing her cheek against his breast.

Once more she turned to leave him, but he detained her.

“Yvonne, come with me and be married today!”

“You know it is impossible. Today! what a boy you are! As if we could!”

“Well then, in a few days — in a week, as soon as possible.”

“Oh! my dearest! do not make it so hard for me! How could I desert Madame so? After all she has done for me? When I know all her hopes are set on me; that if I fail her she has no one ready to take my place! Because she was so sure of me, she did not try to bring on any other pupil for next autumn. And last season was a bad one for her and Monsieur. Their debutante failed; they lost money. Behold this child!” she exclaimed, with a rapid return to her old gay manner, “to whom I have explained all this at least a hundred times already, and he asks me why we cannot be married today!”

Then with another quick change, she laid her cheek tenderly against his and murmured:

“I might have died but for her. You would not have me desert her so cruelly, Rex?”

“My love! No!” A new respect mingled with his passion. Yes, she was faithful!

“And now I will go in! Rex, Rex, you are quite as bad as ever! Look at my hair!” She leaned lightly on his shoulder, her old laughing self.

He smiled back sadly.

“Again! After all! You silly, silly boy! And it is such a little while to wait!”

“Belle Hélène is very popular in Paris. The piece may run a long time.”

“Rex, I must. Don’t make it so hard for me!” Tears filled her eyes.

He kissed her for answer, without speaking.

“Think! think of all she did for me; saved me; fed me, clothed me, taught me when she believed I had only voice and talent enough to support myself by teaching. It was half a year before she and Monsieur began to think I could ever make them any return for their care of me. And all that time she was like a mother to me. And now she has told everyone her hopes of me. If I fail she will be ridiculed. You know Paris. She and Monsieur have enemies who will say there never was any pupil, nor any debut expected. Perhaps she will lose her prestige. The fashion may turn to some other teacher. You know what malice can do with ridicule in Paris. Let me sing for her this once, make her one great success, win her one triumph, and then never, never sing again for any soul but you — my husband!”

Her voice sank at the last words, from its eager pleading, to an exquisite modest sweetness.

“But — if you fail?”

“I shall not fail. I have never doubted that I should have a success. Perhaps it is because for myself I do not care, that I have no fear. When I had lost you — I only thought of that. And now that I have found you again —!”

She clung to him in passionate silence.

“And I may not see your debut?”

“If you come I shall surely fail! I must forget you. I must think only of my part. What do I care for the house full of strange faces? I will make them all rise up and shout my name. But if you were there — Ah! I should have no longer any courage! Promise me to come only on the second night.”

“But if you do fail, I may come and take you immediately before Monsieur the Maire?”

“If you please!” she whispered demurely.

And they both laughed, the old happy-children laugh of the Atelier.

“I suppose you are bad enough to hope that I will fail,” added she presently, with a little moue.

“Yvonne,” said Rex earnestly, “I hope that you will succeed. I know you will, and I can wait for you a few weeks more.”

“We have waited for our happiness two years. We will make the happiness of others now first, n’est ce pas?” she whispered.

The sky began to glow and the house was astir. Rex knew how it would soon be talking, but he cared for nothing that the world could do or say.

“Ah! we will be happy! Think of it! A little house near the Parc Monceau, my studio there, Clifford, Elliott, Rowden — Bra —— all of them coming again! And it will be my wife who will receive them!”

She placed a little soft palm across his lips.

“Taisez-vous, mon ami! It is too soon! See the morning! I must go. There! yes — one more! — my love, Adieu!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chambers/robert_w/in-the-quarter/chapter15.html

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