In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Three

When Gethryn unclosed his eyes the dazzling sunlight almost blinded him. A thousand grotesque figures danced before him, a hot red vapor seemed to envelop him. He felt a dull pain in his ears and a numb sensation about the legs. Gradually he recalled the scene that had just passed; the flying crowd lashed by that pitiless iron scourge; the cruel panic; the mad, suffocating rush; and then that crash of thunder which had crushed him.

He lay quite still, not offering to move. A strange languor seemed to weigh down his very heart. The air reeked with powder smoke. Not a breath was stirring.

Presently the numbness in his knees changed to a hot, pricking throb. He tried to move his legs, but found he could not. Then a sudden thought sent the blood with a rush to his heart. Perhaps he no longer had any legs! He remembered to have heard of legless men whose phantom members caused them many uncomfortable sensations. He certainly had a dull pain where his legs belonged, but the question was, had he legs also? The doubt was too much, and with a faint cry he struggled to rise.

“The devil!” exclaimed a voice close to his head, and a pair of startled eyes met his own. “ The devil!” repeated the owner of the eyes, as if to a apostrophize some particular one. He was a bird-like little fellow, with thin canary-colored hair and eyebrows and colorless eyes, and he was seated upon a campstool about two feet from Gethryn’s head.

He blinked at Gethryn. “These Frenchmen,” said he, “have as many lives as a cat.”

“Thanks!” said Gethryn, smiling faintly.

“An Englishman! The devil!” shouted the pale-eyed man, hopping in haste from his campstool and dropping a well-thumbed sketching-block as he did so.

“Don’t be an ass,” suggested Gethryn; “you’d much better help me to get up.”

“Look here,” cried the other, “how was I to know you were not done for?”

“What’s the matter with me?” said Gethryn. “Are my — my legs gone?”

The little man glanced at Gethryn’s shoes.

No, they’re all there, unless you originally had more than the normal number — in fact I’m afraid — I think you’re all right.

Gethryn stared at him.

“And what the devil am I to do with this sketch?” he continued, kicking the fallen block. “I’ve been at it for an hour. It isn’t half bad, you know. I was going to call it ‘Love in Death.’ It was for the London Illustrated Mirror.”

Gethryn lay quite still. He had decided the little fellow was mad.

“Dead in each other’s arms!” continued the stranger, sentimentally. “She so fair — he so brave — ”

Gethryn sprang up impatiently, but only a little way. Something held him down and he fell back.

“Do you want to get up?” asked the stranger.

“I should rather think so.”

The other bent down and placed his hands under Gethryn’s arms, and — half helped, half by his own impatient efforts — Rex sat up, leaning against the other man. A sharp twinge shot through the numbness of his legs, and his eyes, seeking the cause, fell upon the body of a woman. She lay across his knees, apparently dead. Rex remembered her now for the first time.

“Lift her,” he said weakly.

The little man with some difficulty succeeded in moving the body; then Gethryn, putting one arm around the other’s neck, struggled up. He was stiff, and toppled about a little, but before long he was pretty steady on his feet.

“The woman,” he said, “perhaps she is not dead.”

“Dead she is,” said the Artist of the Mirror cheerfully, gathering up his pencils, which lay scattered on the steps of the pedestal. He leaned over the little heap of crumpled clothing.

“Shot, I fancy,” he muttered.

Gethryn, feeling his strength returning and the circulation restored to his limbs, went over to the place where she lay.

“Have you a flask?” he asked. The little Artist eyed him suspiciously.

“Are you a newspaperman?”

“No, an art student.”

“Nothing to do with newspapers?”

“No.”

“I don’t drink,” said the queer little person.

“I never said you did,” said Gethryn. “Have you a flask, or haven’t you?”

The stranger slowly produced one, and poured a few drops into his pink palm.

“We may as well try,” he said, and began to chafe her forehead. “Here, take the whiskey — let it trickle, so, between her teeth. Don’t spill any more than you can help,” he added.

“Has she been shot?” asked Gethryn.

“Crushed, maybe.”

“Poor little thing, look at her roll of music!” said Gethryn, wiping a few drops of blood from her pallid face, and glancing compassionately at the helpless, dust-covered figure.

“I’m afraid it’s no use — ”

“Give her some more whiskey, quick!” interrupted the stranger.

Gethryn tremblingly poured a few more drops between the parted lips. A faint color came into her temples. She moved, shivered from head to foot, and then, with a half-choked sob, opened her eyes.

“Mon Dieu, comme je souffre!”

“Where do you suffer?” said Gethryn gently.

“The arm; I think it is broken.”

Gethryn stood up and looked about for help. The Place was nearly deserted. The blue-jacketed hussars were still standing over by the Avenue, and an occasional heavy, red-faced cuirassier walked his sweating horse slowly up and down the square. A few policemen lounged against the river wall, chatting with the sentries, and far down the dusty Rue Royale, the cannon winked and blinked before the Church of the Madeleine.

The rumble of wheels caused him to turn. A clumsy, blue-covered wagon drew up at the second fountain. It was a military ambulance. A red-capped trooper sprang down jingling from one of the horses, and was joined by two others who had followed the ambulance and who also dismounted. Then the three approached a group of policemen who were lifting something from the pavement. At the same moment he heard voices beside him, and turning, found that the girl had risen and was sitting on the campstool, her head leaning against the little stranger’s shoulder.

An officer stood looking down at her. His boots were spotless. The band of purple on his red and gold cap showed that he was a surgeon.

“Can we be of any assistance to madame?” he inquired.

“I was looking for a cab,” said Gethryn, “but perhaps she is not strong enough to be taken to her home.”

A frightened look came into the girl’s face and she glanced anxiously at the ambulance. The surgeon knelt quietly beside her.

“Madame is not seriously hurt,” he said, after a rapid examination. “The right arm is a little strained, but it will be nothing, I assure you, Madame; a matter of a few days, that is all.”

He rose and stood brushing the knees of his trousers with his handkerchief. “Monsieur is a foreigner?”

Gethryn smiled. “The accent?”

“On the contrary, I assure you, Monsieur,” cried the officer with more politeness than truth. He eyed the ambulance. “The people of Paris have learned a lesson today,” he said.

A trooper clattered up, leading an officer’s horse, and dismounted, saluting. The young surgeon glanced at his watch.

“Picard,” he said, “stop a closed cab and send it here.”

The trooper wheeled his horse and galloped away across the square, and the officer turned to the others.

“Madame, I trust, will soon recover,” he said courteously. “Madame, messieurs, I have the honor to salute you.” And with many a clink and jingle, he sprang into the saddle and clattered away in the wake of the slowly moving ambulance.

At the corner of the Rue Royale, Gethryn saw the trooper stop a cab and point to the Obelisk. He went over and asked the canary-colored stranger, “Will you take her home, or shall I?”

“Why, you, of course; you brought her here.”

“No, I didn’t. I never saw her until I noticed her being pushed about by the crowd.” He caught the girl’s eye and colored furiously, hoping she did not suspect the nature of their discussion. Before her helplessness it seemed so brutal.

The cab drew up before the Obelisk and a gruff voice cried, “V’la! M’ssieurs! — ‘dames!”

“Put your arm on my shoulder — so,” said Gethryn, and the two men raised her gently. Once in the cab, she sank back, looking limp and white. Gethryn turned sharply to the other man.

“Shall I go?”

“Rather,” replied the little stranger, pleasantly.

Opening his coat in haste, he produced a square of pasteboard. “My card,” he said, offering one to Gethryn, who bowed and fumbled in his pockets. As usual, his card-case was in another coat.

“I’m sorry I have none,” he said at length, “but my name is Reginald Gethryn, and I shall give myself the pleasure of calling to thank you for — ”

“For nothing,” laughed the other, “excepting for the sketch, which you may have when you come to see me.”

“Thanks, and au revoir,” glancing at the card. “Au revoir, Mr Bulfinch.”

He was giving the signal to the cabby when his new acquaintance stopped him.

“You’re quite sure — you — er — don’t know any newspapermen?”

“Quite.”

“All right — all right — and — er — just don’t mention about my having a flask, if you do meet any of them. I— er — keep it for others. I don’t drink.”

“Certainly not,” began Gethryn, but Mr T. Hoppley Bulfinch had seized his campstool and trotted away across the square.

Gethryn leaned into the cab.

“Will you give me your address?” he asked gently.

“Rue Monsieur le Prince — 430 — “ she whispered. “Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” said Gethryn. It was his own number.

“Rue Monsieur le Prince 430”, he repeated to the driver, and stepping in, softly shut the door.

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