In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Five

Thirion’s at six pm. Madame Thirion, neat and demure, sat behind her desk; her husband, in white linen apron and cap, scuttled back and forth shouting, “Bon! Bon!” to the orders that came down the call trumpet. The waiters flew crazily about, and cries went up for “Pierre” and “Jean” and “green peas and fillet.”

The noise, smoke, laughter, shouting, rattle of dishes, the penetrating odor of burnt paper and French tobacco, all proclaimed the place a Latin Quarter restaurant. The English and Americans ate like civilized beings and howled like barbarians. The Germans, when they had napkins, tucked them under their chins. The Frenchmen — well! they often agreed with the hated Teuton in at least one thing; that knives were made to eat with. But which of the four nationalities exceeded the others in turbulence and bad language would be hard to say.

Clifford was eating his chop and staring at the blonde adjunct of a dapper little Frenchman.

“Clifford,” said Carleton, “stop that.”

“I’m mesmerizing her,” said Clifford. “It’s a case of hypnotism.”

The girl, who had been staring back at Clifford, suddenly shrugged her shoulders, and turning to her companion, said aloud:

“How like a monkey, that foreigner!”

Clifford withdrew his eyes in a hurry, amid a roar of laughter from the others. He was glad when Braith’s entrance caused a diversion.

“Hullo, Don Juan! I see you, Lothario! Drinking again?”

Braith took it all as a matter of course, but this time failed to return as good as they gave. He took a seat beside Gethryn and said in a low tone:

“I’ve just come from your house. There’s a letter from the Salon in your box.”

Gethryn set down his wine untasted and reached for his hat.

“What’s the matter, Reggy? Has Lisette gone back on you?” asked Clifford, tenderly.

“It’s the Salon,” said Braith, as Gethryn went out with a hasty “Good night.”

“Poor Reggy, how hard he takes it!” sighed Clifford.

Gethryn hurried along the familiar streets with his heart in his boots sometimes, and sometimes in his mouth.

In his box was a letter and a note addressed in pencil. He snatched them both, and lighting a candle, mounted the stairs, unlocked his door and sank breathless upon the lounge. He tore open the first envelope. A bit of paper fell out. It was from Braith and said:

I congratulate you either way. If you are successful I shall be as glad as you are. If not, I still congratulate you on the manly courage which you are going to show in turning defeat into victory.

“He’s one in a million,” thought Gethryn, and opened the other letter. It contained a folded paper and a card. The card was white. The paper read:

You are admitted to the Salon with a No. 1. My compliments. J. Lefebvre

He ought to have been pleased, but instead he felt weak and giddy, and the pleasure was more like pain. He leaned against the table quite unstrung, his mind in a whirl. He got up and went to the window. Then he shook himself and walked over to his cabinet. Taking out a bunch of keys, he selected one and opened what Clifford called his “cellar.”

Clifford knew and deplored the fact that Gethryn’s “cellar” was no longer open to the public. Since the day when Rex returned from Julien’s, tired and cross, to find a row of empty bottles on the floor and Clifford on the sofa conversing incoherently with himself, and had his questions interrupted by a maudlin squawk from the parrot — also tipsy — since that day Gethryn had carried the key. He now produced a wine glass and a dusty bottle, filled the one from the other and emptied it three times in rapid succession. Then he took the glass to the washbasin and rinsed it with great slowness and precision. Then he sat down and tried to think. Number One meant a mention, perhaps a medal. He would telegraph his aunt tomorrow. Suddenly he felt a strong desire to tell someone. He would go and see Braith. No, Braith was in the evening class at the Beaux Arts; so were the others, excepting Clifford and Elliott, and they were at a ball across the river.

Whom could he see? He thought of the garçon. He would ring him up and give him a glass of wine. Alcide was a good fellow and stole very little. The clock struck eleven.

“No, he’s gone to bed. Alcide, you’ve missed a glass of wine and a cigar, you early bird.”

His head was clear enough now. He realized his good fortune. He had never been so happy in his life. He called the pups and romped with them until an unlucky misstep sent Mrs Gummidge, with a shriek, to the top of the wardrobe, whence she glared at Gethryn and spit at the delighted raven.

The young man sat down fairly out of breath, but the pups still kept making charges at his legs and tumbled over themselves with barking. He gathered them up and carried them into his bedroom to their sleeping box. As he stooped to drop them in, there came a knock at his studio door. But when he hastened to open it, glad of company, there was no one there. Surprised, he turned back and saw on the floor before him a note. Picking it up, he took it to the lamp and read it. It was signed, “Yvonne Descartes.”

When he had read it twice, he sat down to think. Presently he took something out of his waistcoat pocket and held it close to the light. It was a gold brooch in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. On the back was engraved “Yvonne.” He held it in his hand a while, and then, getting up, went slowly towards the door. He opened the door, closed it behind him and moved toward the stairs. Suddenly he started.

“Braith! Is that you?”

There was no answer. His voice sounded hollow in the tiled hallway.

“Braith,” he said again. “I thought I heard him say ‘Rex.”’ But he kept on to the next floor and stopped before the door of the room which was directly under his own. He paused, hesitated, looking up at a ray of light which came out from a crack in the transom.

“It’s too late,” he muttered, and turned away irresolutely.

A clear voice called from within, “Entrez donc, Monsieur.”

He opened the door and went in.

On a piano stood a shaded lamp, which threw a soft yellow light over everything. The first glance gave him a hasty impression of a white lace-covered bed and a dainty toilet table on which stood a pair of tall silver candlesticks; and then, as the soft voice spoke again, “Will Monsieur be seated?” he turned and confronted the girl whom he had helped in the Place de la Concorde. She lay in a cloud of fleecy wrappings on a lounge that was covered with a great white bearskin. Her blue eyes met Gethryn’s, and he smiled faintly. She spoke again:

“Will Monsieur sit a little nearer? It is difficult to speak loudly — I have so little strength.”

Gethryn walked over to the sofa and half unconsciously sank down on the rug which fell on the floor by the invalid’s side. He spoke as he would to a sick child.

“I am so very glad you are better. I inquired of the concierge and she told me.”

A slight color crept into the girl’s face. “You are so good. Ah! what should I have done — what can I say?” She stopped; there were tears in her eyes.

“Please say nothing — please forget it.”

“Forget!” Presently she continued, almost in a whisper, “I had so much to say to you, and now you are really here, I can think of nothing, only that you saved me.”

“Mademoiselle — I beg!”

She lay silent a moment more; then she raised herself from the sofa and held out her hand. His hand and eyes met hers.

“I thank you,” she said, “I can never forget.” Then she sank back among the white fluff of lace and fur. “I only learned this morning,” she went on, after a minute, “ who sat beside me all that night and bathed my arm, and gave me cooling drinks.”

Gethryn colored. “There was no one else to take care of you. I sent for my friend, Doctor Ducrot, but he was out of town. Then Dr Bouvier promised to come, and didn’t. The concierge was ill herself — I could not leave you alone. You know, you were a little out of your head with fright and fever. I really couldn’t leave you to get on by yourself.”

“No,” cried the girl, excitedly, “you could not leave me after carrying me out of that terrible crowd; yourself hurt, exhausted, you sat by my side all night long.”

Gethryn laid his hand on her. “Hélène,” he said, half jesting, “I did what anyone else would have done under the circumstances — and forgotten.”

She looked at him shyly. “Don’t forget,” she said.

“I couldn’t forget your face,” he rashly answered, moved by the emotion she showed.

She brightened.

“Did you know me when you first saw me in the crowd?” She expected him to say “Yes.”

“No,” he replied, “I only saw you were a woman and in danger of your life.”

The brightness fell from her face. “Then it was all the same to you who I was.”

He nodded. “Yes — any woman, you know.”

“Old and dirty and ugly?”

His hand slipped from hers. “And a woman — yes.”

She shrugged her pretty shoulders. “Then I wish it had been someone else.”

“So do I, for your sake,” he answered gravely.

She glanced at him, half frightened; then leaning swiftly toward him:

“Forgive me; I would not change places with a queen.”

“Nor I with any man!” he cried gayly. “Am I not Paris?”

“And I?”

“You are Hélène,” he said, laughing. “Let me see — Paris and Hélène would not have changed — ”

She interrupted him impatiently. “Words! you do not mean them. Nor do I, either,” she added, hastily. After that neither spoke for a while. Gethryn, half stretched on the big rug, idly twisting bits of it into curls, felt very comfortable, without troubling to ask himself what would come next. Presently she glanced up.

“Paris, do you want to smoke?”

“You don’t think I would smoke in this dainty nest?”

“Please do, I like it. We are — we will be such very good friends. There are matches on that table in the silver box.”

He shook his head, laughing. “You are too indulgent.”

“I am never indulgent, excepting to myself. But I have caprices and I generally die when they are not indulged. This is one. Please smoke.”

“Oh, in that case, with Hélène’s permission.”

She laughed delightedly as he blew the rings of fragrant smoke far up to the ceiling. There was another long pause, then she began again:

“Paris, you speak French very well.”

He came from where he had been standing by the table and seated himself once more among the furs at her feet.

“Do I, Hélène?”

“Yes — but you sing it divinely.”

Gethryn began to hum the air of the dream song, smiling, “Yes ’tis a dream — a dream of love,” he repeated, but stopped.

Yvonne’s temples and throat were crimson.

“Please open the window,” she cried, “it’s so warm here.”

“Hélène, I think you are blushing,” said he, mischievously.

She turned her head away from him. He rose and opened the window, leaning out a moment; his heart was beating violently. Presently he returned.

“It’s one o’clock.”

No answer.

“Hélène, it’s one o’clock in the morning.”

“Are you tired?” she murmured.

“No.”

“Nor I— don’t go.”

“But it’s one o’clock.”

“Don’t go yet.”

He sank down irresolutely on the rug again. “I ought to go,” he murmured.

“Are we to remain friends?”

“That is for Hélène to say.”

“And Hélène will leave it to Homer!”

“To whom?” said Gethryn.

“Monsieur Homer,” said the girl, faintly.

“But that was a tragedy.”

“But they were friends.”

“In a way. Yes, in a way.”

Gethryn tried to return to a light tone. “They fell in love, I believe.” No answer. “Very well,” said Gethryn, still trying to joke, “I will carry you off in a boat, then.”

“To Troy — when?”

“No, to Meudon, when you are well. Do you like the country?”

“I love it,” she said.

“Well, I’ll take my easel and my paints along too.”

She looked at him seriously. “You are an artist — I heard that from the concierge.”

“Yes,” said Gethryn, “I think I may claim the title tonight.”

And then he told her about the Salon. She listened and brightened with sympathy. Then she grew silent.

“Do you paint landscapes?”

“Figures,” said the young man, shortly.

“From models?”

“Of course,” he answered, still more drily.

“Draped,” she persisted.

“No.”

“I hate models!” she cried out, almost fiercely.

“They are not a pleasing set, as a rule,” he admitted. “But I know some decent ones.”

She shivered and shook her curly head. “Some are very pretty, I suppose.”

“Some.”

“Do you know Sarah Brown?”

“Yes, I know Sarah.”

“Men go wild about her.”

“I never did.”

Yvonne was out of humor. “Oh,” she cried, petulantly, “you are very cold — you Americans — like ice.”

“Because we don’t run after Sarah?”

“Because you are a nation of business, and — ”

“And brains,” said Gethryn, drily.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Gethryn looked at the girl. She lay with her face turned from him.

“Hélène!” No answer. “Yvonne — Mademoiselle!” No answer. “It’s two o’clock.”

A slight impatient movement of the head.

“Good night.” Gethryn rose. “Good night,” he repeated. He waited for a moment. “Good night, Yvonne,” he said, for the third time.

She turned slowly toward him, and as he looked down at her he felt a tenderness as for a sick child.

“Good night,” he said once more, and, bending over her, gently laid the little gold clasp in her open hand. She looked at it in surprise; then suddenly she leaned swiftly toward him, rested a brief second against him, and then sank back again. The golden fleur-de-lis glittered over his heart.

“You will wear it?” she whispered.

“Yes.”

“Then — good night.”

Half unconsciously he stooped and kissed her forehead; then went his way. And all that night one slept until the morning broke, and one saw morning break, then fell asleep.

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