In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Two

The day broke hot and stifling. The first sunbeams which chased the fog from bridge and street also drove the mists from the cool thickets of the Luxembourg Garden, and revealed groups of dragoons picketed in the shrubbery.

“Dragoons in the Luxembourg!” cried the gamins to each other. “What for?”

But even the gamins did not know — yet.

At the great Ateliers of Messieurs Bouguereau and Lefebvre the first day of the week is the busiest — and so, this being Monday, the studios were crowded.

The heat was suffocating. The walls, smeared with the refuse of a hundred palettes, fairly sizzled as they gave off a sickly odor of paint and turpentine. Only two poses had been completed, but the tired models stood or sat, glistening with perspiration. The men drew and painted, many of them stripped to the waist. The air was heavy with tobacco smoke and the respiration of some two hundred students of half as many nationalities.

“Dieu! quel chaleur!” gasped a fat little Frenchman, mopping his clipped head and breathing hard.

“Clifford,” he inquired in English, “ees eet zat you haf a so great — a — heat chez vous?”

Clifford glanced up from his easel. “Heat in New York? My dear Deschamps, this is nothing.”

The other eyed him suspiciously.

“You know New York is the capital of Galveston?” said Clifford, slapping on a brush full of color and leaning back to look at it.

The Frenchman didn’t know, but he nodded.

“Well, that’s very far south. We suffer — yes, we suffer, but our poor poultry suffer more.”

“Ze — ze pooltree? Wat eez zat?”

Clifford explained.

“In summer the fire engines are detailed to throw water on the hens to keep their feathers from singeing. Singeing spoils the flavor.”

The Frenchman growled.

“One of our national institutions is the ‘Hen’s Mutual Fire Insurance Company,’ supported by the Government,” added Clifford.

Deschamps snorted.

“That is why,” put in Rhodes, lazily dabbing at his canvas, “why we seldom have omelets — the eggs are so apt to be laid fried.”

“How, zen, does eet make ze chicken?” spluttered the Frenchman, his wrath rising.

“Our chickens are also — “ a torrent of bad language from Monsieur Deschamps, and a howl of execration from all the rest, silenced Clifford.

“It’s too hot for that sort of thing,” pleaded Elliott.

“Idiot!” muttered the Frenchman, shooting ominous glances at the bland youth, who saw nothing.

“C’est l’heure,” cried a dozen voices, and the tired model stretched his cramped limbs. Clifford rose, dropped a piece of charcoal down on his neighbor’s neck, and stepping across Thaxton’s easel, walked over to Gethryn.

“Rex, have you heard the latest?”

“No.”

“The Ministry has fallen again, and the Place de la Concorde is filled with people yelling, A bas la Republique! Vive le General Boulanger!”

Gethryn looked serious. Clifford went on, speaking low.

“I saw a troop of cavalry going over this morning, and old Forain told me just now that the regiments at Versailles were ready to move at a minute’s notice.”

“I suppose things are lively across the river,” said Gethryn.

“Exactly, and we’re all going over to see the fun. You’ll come?”

“Oh, I’ll come. Hello! here’s Rhodes; tell him.”

Rhodes knew. Ministry fallen. Mob at it some more. Been fired on by the soldiers once. Pont Neuf and the Arc guarded by cannon. Carleton came hurrying up.

“The French students are loose and raising Cain. We’re going to assist at the show. Come along.”

“No,” growled Braith, and looked hard at Rex.

“Oh, come along! We’re all going,” said Carleton, “Elliott, Gethryn, the Colossus, Thaxton, Clifford.”

Braith turned sharply to Rex. “Yes, going to get your heads smashed by a bullet or carved by a saber. What for? What business is it of yours?”

“Braith thinks he looks like a Prussian and is afraid,” mused Clifford.

“Come on, won’t you, Braith?” said Gethryn.

“Are you going?”

“Why not?” said the other, uneasily, “and why won’t you?”

“No French mob for me,” answered Braith, quietly. “You fellows had better keep away. You don’t know what you may get into. I saw the siege, and the man who was in Paris in ‘71 has seen enough.”

“Oh, this is nothing serious,” urged Clifford. “If they fire I shall leg it; so will the lordly Reginald; so will we all.”

Braith dug his hands into the pockets of his velveteens, and shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I’ve got some work to do. So have you, Rex.”

“Come on, we’re off,” shouted Thaxton from the stairway.

Clifford seized Gethryn’s arm, Elliott and Rhodes crowded on behind. A small earthquake shock followed as the crowd of students launched itself down the stairs.

“Braith doesn’t approve of my cutting the atelier so often,” said Gethryn, “and he’s right. I ought to have stayed.”

“Reggy going to back out?” cooed Clifford.

“No,” said Rex. “Here’s Rhodes with a cab.”

“It’s too hot to walk,” gasped Rhodes. “I secured this. It was all I could get. Pile in.”

Rex sprang up beside the driver.

“Allons!” he cried, “to the Obelisk!”

“But, monsieur — “ expostulated the cabby, “it is today the revolution. I dare not.”

“Go on, I tell you,” roared Rhodes. “Clifford, take his reins away if he refuses.”

Clifford made a snatch at them, but was repulsed by the indignant cabby.

“Go on, do you hear?” shouted the Colossus. The cabman looked at Gethryn.

“Go on!” laughed Rex, “there is no danger.”

Jehu lifted his shoulders to the level of his shiny hat, and giving the reins a jerk, muttered, “Crazy English! — Heu — heu — Cocotte!”

In twenty minutes they had arrived at the bridge opposite the Palais Bourbon.

“By Jove!” said Gethryn, “look at that crowd! The Place de la Concorde is black with them!”

The cab stopped with a jolt. Half a dozen policemen stepped into the street. Two seized the horses’ heads.

“The bridge is forbidden to vehicles, gentlemen,” they said, courteously. “To cross, one must descend.”

Clifford began to argue, but Elliott stopped him.

“It’s only a step,” said he, paying the relieved cabby. “Come ahead!”

In a moment they were across the bridge and pushing into the crowd, single file.

“What a lot of troops and police!” said Elliott, panting as he elbowed his way through the dense masses. “I tell you, the mob are bent on mischief.”

The Place de la Concorde was packed and jammed with struggling, surging humanity. Pushed and crowded up to the second fountain, clinging in bunches to the Obelisk, overrunning the first fountain, and covering the pedestals of the “Cities of France,” it heaved, shifted, undulated like clusters of swarming ants.

In the open space about the second fountain was the Prefect of the Seine, surrounded by a staff of officers. He looked worn and anxious as he stood mopping the perspiration from his neck and glancing nervously at his men, who were slowly and gently rolling back the mob. On the bridge a battalion of red-legged soldiers lounged, leaning on their rifles. To the right were long lines of cavalry in shining helmets and cuirasses. The men sat motionless in their saddles, their armor striking white fire in the fierce glow of the midday sun. Ever and anon the faint flutter of a distant bugle announced the approach of more regiments.

Among the shrubbery of the Gardens, a glimmer of orange and blue betrayed the lurking presence of the Guards. Down the endless vistas of the double and quadruple rows of trees stretching out to the Arc, and up the Cour la Reine, long lines of scarlet were moving toward the central point, the Place de la Concorde. The horses of a squadron of hussars pawed and champed across the avenue, the men, in their pale blue jackets, presenting a cool relief to the universal glare. The Champs Elysees was deserted, excepting by troops. Not a civilian was to be seen on the bridge. In front of the Madeleine three points of fire blazed and winked in the sun. They were three cannon.

Suddenly, over by the Obelisk, began a hoarse murmur, confused and dull at first, but growing louder, until it swelled into a deafening roar. “Long live Boulanger!” “Down with Ferry!” “Long live the Republic!” As the great wave of sound rose over the crowd and broke sullenly against the somber masses of the Palace of the Bourbons, a thin, shrill cry from the extreme right answered, “Vive la Commune!” Elliott laughed nervously.

“They’ll charge those howling Belleville anarchists!”

Clifford began, in pure deviltry, to whistle the Carmagnole.

“Do you want to get us all into hot water?” whispered Thaxton.

“Monsieur is of the Commune?” inquired a little man, suavely.

And, the devil still prompting Clifford, he answered: “Because I whistled the Carmagnole? Bah!”

The man scowled.

“Look here, my friend,” said Clifford, “my political principles are yours, and I will be happy to drink at your expense.”

The other Americans exchanged looks, and Elliott tried to check Clifford’s folly before it was too late.

“Espion!” muttered the Frenchman, adding, a little louder, “Sale Allemand!”

Gethryn looked up startled.

“Keep cool,” whispered Thaxton; “if they think we’re Germans we’re done for.”

Carleton glanced nervously about. “How they stare,” he whispered. “Their eyes pop out of their heads as if they saw Bismarck.”

There was an ominous movement among the throng.

“Vive l’Anarchie! A bas les Prussiens!” yelled a beetle-browed Italian. “A bas les etrangers!”

“My friend,” said Clifford, pleasantly, “you’ve got a very vile accent yourself.”

“You’re a Prussian!” screamed the man.

Every one was now looking at them. Gethryn began to fume.

“I’ll thrash that cur if he says Prussian again,” said he.

“You’ll keep quiet, that’s what you’ll do,” growled Thaxton, looking anxiously at Rhodes.

“Yes, you will!” said the Colossus, very pale.

“Pig of a Prussian!” shouted a fearful-looking hag, planting herself in front of Clifford with arms akimbo and head thrust forward. “Pig of a Prussian spy!”

She glanced at her supporters, who promptly applauded.

“Ah — h — h!” she screamed, her little green eyes shining like a tiger’s — “Spy! German spy!”

“Madam,” said Clifford, politely, “go and wash yourself.”

“Hold your cursed tongue, Clifford!” whispered Thaxton. “Do you want to be torn to pieces?”

Suddenly a man behind Gethryn sprang at his back, and then, amazed and terrified at his own daring, yelled lustily for help. Gethryn shook him off as he would a fly, but the last remnant of self-control went at the same time, and, wheeling, he planted a blow square in the fellow’s neck. The man fell like an ox. In an instant the mob was upon them. Thaxton received a heavy kick in the ribs, which sent him reeling against Carleton. Clifford knocked two men down in as many blows, and, springing back, stood guard over Thaxton until he could struggle to his feet again. Elliott got a sounding thwack on the nose, which he neatly returned, adding one on the eye for interest. Gethryn and Carleton fought back to back. Rhodes began by half strangling a son of the Commune and then flung him bodily among his howling compatriots.

“Good Heavens,” gasped Rhodes, “we can’t keep this up!” And raising his voice, he cried with all the force of his lungs, “Help! This way, police!” A shot answered him, and a man, clapping his hands to his face, tilted heavily forward, the blood spurting between his fingers.

Then a terrible cry arose, a din in which the Americans caught the clanging of steel and the neighing of horses. A man was hurled violently against Gethryn, who, losing in turn his balance, staggered and fell. Rising to his knees, he saw a great foam-covered horse rearing almost over him, and a red-faced rider in steel helmet and tossing plume slashing furiously among the crowd. Next moment he was dragged to his feet and back into the flying mob.

“Look out,” panted Thaxton, “the cavalry — they’ve charged — run!” Gethryn glanced over his shoulder. All along the edge of the frantic, panic-stricken crowd the gleaming crests of the cavalry surged and dashed like a huge wave of steel.

Cries, groans, and curses rose and were drowned in the thunder of the charging horses and the clashing of weapons.

“Spy!” screamed a voice in his ear. Gethryn turned, but the fellow was legging it for safety.

Suddenly he saw a woman who, pushed and crowded by the mob, stumbled and fell. In a moment he was by her side, bent over to raise her, was hurled upon his face, rose blinded by dust and half-stunned, but dragging her to her feet with him.

Swept onward by the rush, knocked this way and that, he still managed to support the dazed woman, and by degrees succeeded in controlling his own course, which he bent toward the Obelisk. As he neared the goal of comparative safety, exhausted, he suffered himself and the woman to be carried on by the rush. Then a blinding flash split the air in front, and the crash of musketry almost in his face hurled him back.

Men threw up their hands and sank in a heap or spun round and pitched headlong. For a moment he swayed in the drifting smoke. A blast of hot, sickening air enveloped him. Then a dull red cloud seemed to settle slowly, crushing, grinding him into the earth.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chambers/robert_w/in-the-quarter/chapter2.html

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