In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers

Eight

Although the sound of the closing door was hardly perceptible, it was enough to wake Gethryn.

“Elise!” he called, starting up, “Elise!”

But the girl was beyond earshot.

“And she went away without her money, too; I’ll drop around tomorrow and leave it; she may need it,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes and staring at the door.

It was dinner time, and past, but he had little appetite.

“I’ll just have something here,” he said to himself, and catching up his hat ran down stairs. In twenty minutes he was back with eggs, butter, bread, a paté, a bottle of wine and a can of sardines. The spirit lamp was lighted and the table deftly spread.

“I’ll have a cup of tea, too,” he thought, shaking the blue tea canister, and then, touching a match to the well-filled grate, soon had the kettle fizzling and spluttering merrily.

The wind had blown up cold from the east and the young man shivered as he closed and fastened the windows. Then he sat down, his chin on his hands, and gazed into the glowing grate. Mrs Gummidge, who had smelled the sardines, came rubbing up against his legs, uttering a soft mew from sheer force of habit. She was not hungry — in fact, Gethryn knew that the concierge, whose duty it was to feed all the creatures, overdid it from pure kindness of heart — at Gethryn’s expense.

“Gummidge, you’re stuffed up to your eyes, aren’t you?” he said.

At the sound of his voice the cat hoisted her tail, and began to march in narrowing circles about her master’s chair, making gentle observations in the cat language.

Gethryn placed a bit of sardine on a fork and held it out, but the little humbug merely sniffed at it daintily, and then rubbed against her master’s hand.

He laughed and tossed the bit of fish into the fire, where it spluttered and blazed until the parrot woke up with a croak of annoyance. Gethryn watched the kettle in silence.

Faces he could never see among the coals, but many a time he had constructed animals and reptiles from the embers, and just now he fancied he could see a resemblance to a shark among the bits of blazing coal.

He watched the kettle dreamily. The fire glowed and flashed and sank, and glowed again. Now he could distinctly see a serpent twisting among the embers. The clock ticked in measured unison with the slow oscillation of the flame serpent. The wind blew hard against the panes and sent a sudden chill creeping to his feet.

Bang! Bang! went the blinds. The hallway was full of strange noises. He thought he heard a step on the threshold; he imagined that his door creaked, but he did not turn around from his study of the fire; it was the wind, of course.

The sudden hiss of the kettle, boiling over, made him jump and seize it. As he turned to set it down, there was a figure standing beside the table. Neither spoke. The kettle burnt his hand and he set it back on the hearth; then he remained standing, his eyes fixed on the fire.

After a while Yvonne broke the silence — speaking very low: “Are you angry?”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” said the girl, with a sigh.

The silence was too strained to last, and finally Gethryn said, “Won’t you sit down?”

She did so silently.

“You see I’m — I’m about to do a little cooking,” he said, looking at the eggs.

The girl spoke again, still very low.

“Won’t you tell me why you are angry?”

“I’m not,” began Gethryn, but he sat down and glanced moodily at the girl.

“For two weeks you have not been to see me.”

“You are mistaken, I have been — “ he began, but stopped.

“When?”

“Saturday.”

“And I was not at home?”

“And you were at home,” he said grimly. “You had a caller — it was easy to hear his voice, so I did not knock.”

She winced, but said quietly, “Don’t you think that is rude?”

“Yes,” said Gethryn, “I beg pardon.”

Presently she continued: “You and — and he — are the only two men who have been in my room.”

“I’m honored, I’m sure,” he answered, drily.

The girl threw back her mackintosh and raised her veil.

“I ask your pardon again,” he said; “allow me to relieve you of your waterproof.”

She rose, suffering him to aid her with her cloak, and then sat down and looked into the fire in her turn.

“It has been so long — I— I— hoped you would come.”

“Whom were you with in the Luxembourg Gardens?” he suddenly broke out.

She did not misunderstand or evade the question, and Gethryn, watching her face, thought perhaps she had expected it. But she resented his tone.

“I was with a friend,” she said, simply.

He came and sat down opposite her.

“It is not my business,” he said, sulkily; “excuse me.”

She looked at him for some moments in silence.

“It was Mr Pick,” she said at length.

Gethryn could not repress a gesture of disgust.

“And that — Jew was in your rooms? That Jew!”

“Yes.” She sat nervously rolling and unrolling her gloves. “Why do you care?” she asked, looking into the fire.

“I don’t.”

“You do.”

There was a pause.

“Rex,” she said, very low, “will you listen?”

“Yes, I’ll listen.”

“He is a — a friend of my sister’s. He came from her to — to — ”

“To what!”

“To — borrow a little money. I distrusted him the first time he came — the time you heard him in my room — and I refused him. Saturday he stopped me in the street, and, hoping to avoid a chance of meeting — you, I walked through the park.”

“And you gave him the money — I saw you!”

“I did — all I could spare.”

“Is he — is your sister married?”

“No,” she whispered.

“And why — “ began Gethryn, angrily, “Why does that scoundrel come to beg money — “ He stopped, for the girl was in evident distress.

“Ah! You know why,” she said in a scarce audible voice.

The young man was silent.

“And you will come again?” she asked timidly.

No answer.

She moved toward the door.

“We were such very good friends.”

Still he was silent.

“Is it au revoir?” she whispered, and waited for a moment on the threshold.

“Then it is adieu.”

“Yes,” he said, huskily, “that is better.”

She trembled a little and leaned against the doorway.

“Adieu, mon ami — “ She tried to speak, but her voice broke and ended in a sob.

Then, all at once, and neither knew just how it was, she was lying in his arms, sobbing passionately.

“Rex,” said Yvonne, half an hour later, as she stood before the mirror arranging her disordered curls, “are you not the least little bit ashamed of yourself?”

The answer appeared to be satisfactory, but the curly head was in a more hopeless state of disorder than before, and at last the girl gave a little sigh and exclaimed, “There! I’m all rumpled, but its your fault. Will you oblige me by regarding my hair?”

“Better let it alone; I’ll only rumple it some more!” he cried, ominously.

“You mustn’t! I forbid you!”

“But I want to!”

“Not now, then — ”

“Yes — immediately!”

“Rex — you mustn’t. O, Rex — I— I— ”

“What?” he laughed, holding her by her slender wrists.

She flushed scarlet and struggled to break away.

“Only one.”

“No.”

“One.”

“None.”

“Shall I let you go?”

“Yes,” she said, but catching sight of his face, stopped short.

He dropped her hands with a laugh and looked at her. Then she came slowly up to him, and flushing crimson, pulled his head down to hers.

“Yvonne, do you love me? Truthfully?”

“Rex, can you ask?” Her warm little head lay against his throat, her heart beat against his, her breath fell upon his cheek, and her curls clustered among his own.

“Yvonne — Yvonne,” he murmured, “I love you — once and forever.”

“Once and forever,” she repeated, in a half whisper.

“Forever,” he said.

An hour later they were seated tete-à-tete at Gethryn’s little table. She had not permitted him to poach the eggs, and perhaps they were better on that account.

“Bachelor habits must cease,” she cried, with a little laugh, and Gethryn smiled in doubtful acquiescence.

“Do you like grilled sardines on toast?” she asked.

“I seem to,” he smiled, finishing his fourth; “they are delicious — yours,” he added.

“Oh, that tea!” she cried, “and not one bit of sugar. What a hopelessly careless man!”

But Gethryn jumped up, crying, “Wait a moment!” and returned triumphantly with a huge mass of rock-candy — the remains of one of Clifford’s abortive attempts at “rye-and-rock.”

They each broke off enough for their cups, and Gethryn, tasting his, declared the tea “delicious.” Yvonne sat, chipping an egg and casting sidelong glances at Gethryn, which were always met and returned with interest.

“Yvonne, I want to tell you a secret.”

“What, Rex?”

“I love you.”

“Oh!”

“And you?”

“No — not at all!” cried the girl, shaking her pretty head. Presently she gave him a swift glance from beneath her drooping lashes.

“Rex?”

“What, Yvonne?”

“I want to tell you a secret.”

“What, Yvonne?”

“If you eat so many sardines — ”

“Oh!” cried Gethryn, half angrily, but laughing, “you must pay for that!”

“What?” she said, innocently, but jumped up and kept the table between him and herself.

“You know!” he cried, chasing her into a corner.

“We are two babies,” she said, very red, following him back to the table. The paté was eaten in comparative quiet.

“Now,” she said, with great dignity, setting down her glass, “behave and get me some hot water.”

Gethryn meekly brought it.

“If you touch me while I am washing these dishes!”

“But let me help?”

“No, go and sit down instantly.”

He fled in affected terror and ensconced himself upon the sofa. Presently he inquired, in a plaintive voice: “Have you nearly finished?”

“No,” said the girl, carefully drying and arranging the quaint Egyptian tea-set, “and I won’t for ages.”

“But you’re not going to wash all those things? The concierge does that.”

“No, only the wine-glasses and the tea-set. The idea of trusting such fragile cups to a concierge! What a boy!”

But she was soon ready to dry her slender hands, and caught up a towel with a demure glance at Gethryn.

“Which do you think most of — your dogs, or me?”

“Pups.”

“That parrot, or me?”

“Poll.”

“The raven, or me? The cat, or me?”

“Bird and puss.”

She stole over to his side and knelt down.

“Rex, if you ever tire of me — if you ever are unkind — if you ever leave me — I think I shall die.”

He drew her to him. “Yvonne,” he whispered, “we can’t always be together.”

“I know it — I’m foolish,” she faltered.

“I shall not always be a student. I shall not always be in Paris, dear Yvonne.”

She leaned closer to him.

“I must go back to America someday.”

“And — and marry?” she whispered, chokingly.

“No — not to marry,” he said, “but it is my home.”

“I— I know it, Rex, but don’t let us think of it. Rex,” she said, some moments after, “are you like all students?”

“How do you mean?”

“Have you ever loved — before — a girl, here in Paris — like me?”

“There are none — like you.”

“Answer me, Rex.”

“No, I never have,” he said, truthfully. Presently he added, “And you, Yvonne?”

She put her warm little hand across his mouth.

“Don’t ask,” she murmured.

“But I do!” he cried, struggling to see her eyes, “won’t you tell me?”

She hid her face tight against his breast.

“You know I have; that is why I am alone here, in Paris.”

“You loved him?”

“Yes — not as I love you.”

Presently she raised her eyes to his.

“Shall I tell you all? I am like so many — so many others. When you know their story, you know mine.”

He leaned down and kissed her.

“Don’t tell me,” he said.

But she went on.

“I was only seventeen — I am nineteen now. He was an officer at — at Chartres, where we lived. He took me to Paris.”

“And left you.”

“He died of the fever in Tonquin.”

“When?”

“Three weeks ago.”

“And you heard?”

“Tonight.”

“Then he did leave you.”

“Don’t, Rex — he never loved me, and I— I never really loved him. I found that out.”

“When did you find it out?”

“One day — you know when — in a — a cab.”

“Dear Yvonne,” he whispered, “can’t you go back to — to your family?”

“No, Rex.”

“Never?”

“I don’t wish to, now. No, don’t ask me why! I can’t tell you. I am like all the rest — all the rest. The Paris fever is only cured by death. Don’t ask me, Rex; I am content — indeed I am.”

Suddenly a heavy rapping at the door caused Gethryn to spring hurriedly to his feet.

“Rex!”

It was Braith’s voice.

“What!” cried Gethryn, hoarsely.

There was a pause.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?”

“I can’t, old man; I— I’m not just up for company tonight,” stammered Gethryn.

“Company be damned — are you ill?”

“No.”

There was a silence.

“I’m sorry,” began Gethryn, but was cut short by a gruff:

“All right; good night!” and Braith went away.

Yvonne looked inquiringly at him.

“It was nothing,” he murmured, very pale, and then threw himself at her feet, crying, “Oh, Yvonne — Yvonne!”

Outside the storm raged furiously.

Presently she whispered, “Rex, shall I light the candle? It is midnight.”

“Yes,” he said.

She slipped away, and after searching for some time, cried, “the matches are all gone, but here is a piece of paper — a letter; do you want it? I can light it over the lamp.”

She held up an envelope to him.

“I can light it over the lamp,” she repeated.

“What is the address?”

“It is very long; I can’t read it all, only ‘Florence, Italy.”’

“Burn it,” he said, in a voice so low she could scarcely hear him.

Presently she came over and knelt down by his side. Neither spoke or moved.

“The candle is lighted,” she whispered, at last.

“And the lamp?”

“Is out.”

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