In the morning Kendall was given orders to leave that night for the headquarters of the Second Division, which lay not distant from Meaux—that splendid body of old Regulars and Marines who had but a few weeks before proved the worth of the American soldier to the Hun and to the Allied armies by its splendidly achieved defense of the Paris-Metz highway—and there to gather certain information on shoes and ships and sealing-wax and cabbages and cooties and morale and crops and transport. He was to acquire this information with all possible despatch and accuracy, and to return to Paris with his report. An army automobile, carrying certain other officers, would leave 10 rue Ste.-Anne at nine o’clock that evening.
So he was going to the front. He was actually to penetrate to those not distant battle-lines and to hear the sound of guns and himself to come under hostile fire…. He was not, then, to rest safely in Paris for the duration of the war; was not to return to America a veteran of the roll-top desk and the ink-well! It was only for a space of days, but he would actually have been there, actually have set his feet in a trench—to be a part of a combat division. He was delighted…. He hoped something would happen, that his days at the front might not be uneventful, that he might see and take part in some manifestation of real war. His sentiments were very boyish. Why, he might actually be wounded, and so entitled to wear on his sleeve a golden wound chevron! He found himself close to hoping it would be so, and, with a sudden assertion of common sense, laughed at himself when he discovered he was actually selecting the part of his anatomy in which he preferred to receive his wound. He had decided on a leg, the fleshy part of the leg. That would not be serious, would not incapacitate him for more than a few days or weeks. It was really a glowing prospect…. And it would make him a veteran!
However, going to the front that night was unhandy. He had a rendez-vous with Andree and an appointment to dine with Monsieur Robert…. But that would be possible. Number 10 rue Ste.-Anne was just around the corner from Marty’s. He could dine and then hasten to be where his orders called him…. Andree was eclipsed by the adventure.
At noon he packed such things as were necessary and whisked them by taxicab to rue Ste.-Anne where he left them in charge of a sergeant in the Assistant Provost Marshal’s office. This left him free until nine o’clock…. He was proud that his equipment contained a steel helmet and gas-mask.
It was an exultant and excited young man who waited for Andree at the Metro station in the Place de la Concorde that evening. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to impress her with the fact that he was a real soldier and was going into danger. He even rehearsed the nonchalant speech which would announce it to her…. And at last she appeared—again in white, again with that quaint air of detachment and concentration, and still very lovely in her fragile, slender way…. Suddenly he was sorry he was going, because it meant an absence from her.
Now she was recognizing him in that delightfully timid way of hers—doubting her welcome until he reassured her.
“Good evening, monsieur,” she said in French. She was always formal in those first few moments.
“I’ve wanted to see you—wanted to see you ever since you left me last night,” he said, rather unexpectedly to himself, especially unexpected in its truth, for it was true, though he realized it only then.
“That is well,” she said, and looked up at him quickly, smilingly, with something shining in her eyes that had never been there before. “And I have thought of you.”
“It has been a long day…. All the days are long because you are not with me.”
“It is true?” She paused, demanding to be assured that he was speaking in earnest, and he took her arm and pressed it to his side. “That is nice,” she said. “You should miss me at all times. Oh yes. Ver’, ver’ much…. And I shall also miss you.”
“My dear,” he said, bending close to her ear, “do you love me?”
“Yes,” she said, simply.
And then he knew that his great news had turned to aloes in his mouth. The thing he had longed to tell her—a little boastfully—he could not bear to tell her now, and he wondered vaguely why it should be so. But he must tell her. He started to do so, and stopped. No—it would do as well after dinner.
“And you?” she said, after a little pause.
“Very much…. Very much….”
“No, no…. I am afraid. It cannot be so. You only say—that is all. You have make me love you—and soon you will go away and leave me to cry…. Yes….”
“And if I do,” he said, striving to tease her, “you will soon find another American. Sure you will…. Vous êtes très-méchante…. Pas fidèle.”
“How can you say? It is not kind. Oh, I am fidèle. You believe? Yes, yes. You believe?”
“Of course, child,” he said, repentantly. “I was only joking.”
“And you—are you fidèle? On the nights when I do not meet with you—what then? Do you see some other girl?… Men are not fidèle…. You see other girl—lots of other girl.”
“Now look here, you mustn’t say that. You’re the only girl in the world I give a snap of my finger for…. Just you.”
“It is well,” she said, contentedly; and then, “We dine with thees yo’ng actor thees evening?”
“Oh, I am glad…. It is ver’ important. He must like me, and then he will speak for me at the Conservatoire. You must be ver’ good friend to him so that he will speak for me.”
“No, young lady, you keep away from that young actor. He’s too darned handsome. I don’t want him stealing you away from me.”
“Non…. Non…. I do not care for him, only that he speak for me. You must not be afraid.”
“Shall we take a taxi?”
“No. There is much time. A taxi is much expensive. I must not make you spend all your money.”
“That wouldn’t be such a hard job. I haven’t much to spend.”
“It is no matter…. If you had much—that is different—then I would spend…. It is not for money that I know you—oh no. At first—then I do not know what kind of yo’ng man you are…. I take you to that expensive café. It is to punish you because you speak to me as you did…. I did not know you. But now I know you ver’ well. You have been kind.” She nodded her head in punctuation. “You have been always nice and ver’ gentle, and so I see you ver’ often.”
“Nobody could help being gentle with you, mignonne.”
“I do not know,” she said. “The worl’ it is not nice.” She shook her head disapprovingly. “All men are not nice…. It is ver’ hard, and sometimes I am most unhappy. It is so.”
“But you are happy now?”
She pointed her finger down at the sidewalk. “Now—thees minute—yes. In one hour in four hours it may not be so. Who can say?”
It brought him again to his going away, and a real dread of making the announcement to her seized upon him. He was afraid she would cry or do some other equally distressing thing. But that was selfish. He dreaded her crying because it would be unpleasant for himself and was rather ashamed of it. He even fancied he could understand something of how she would actually feel, but he was wrong. He was groping in the darkness, wandering in the darkness of a strange mansion with many rooms and devious passages, and it was inevitable that he should miss his way….
They entered Marty’s and Monsieur Robert came forward to greet them with that delicious, boyish smile of his.
“I am glad you come,” he said, bobbing his head. “My friends they shall be jealous to see me wit’ such pretty girl.”
Andree was very prim and quiet with that quaint attractive quietness that always made Kendall wonder, because he had never seen anything like it. It was a sort of waiting quietness, a kind of recess that Andree retired into to await events, and from which she would emerge impish or girlish or serious, like a child or like a weary woman. One felt she was not present bodily, but was staring at one expectantly to read one’s mood, or, possibly, to read one into the future and to foretell if good or ill were to come out of it. Now she watched Monsieur Robert when he was not looking at her, but the instant his eyes turned toward her her own eyes would hide behind their lashes diffidently.
“What shall we eat?” Monsieur Robert asked, in French. “Potage? Poulet rôti, cresson? Haricots verts? Salade?… Eh?”
“Sounds good,” said Kendall, but monsieur was looking expectantly to Andree.
“That is well,” she said.
“Pommard?… The vin ordinaire is not for us to-night?”
She was not interested in the wine, and Kendall trusted to the young actor’s judgment. So they gave their order, and were only commencing on the soup when a commotion at the door apprised Kendall that Jacques was coming. Andree had started at the noise.
“It is Jacques,” he said to her. “I told you about him.”
“Yes,” she said, but did not turn her head.
In a moment Jacques paused at the table and stared, drew himself to his full height, threw back his hair from his brow with a flamboyant gesture, and shouted: “A-ah!… A-ah!…”
Kendall was embarrassed. There was no telling what Jacques might say or do, for the man had a rather terrible, if delicious, frankness, and discussed with openness and noise what Kendall was accustomed to hear spoken of in whispers by men alone—and by them in corners…. He had heard Jacques one evening going from table to table—demanding of friends and strangers alike their judgment on a certain phase of the art of making love. Kendall had really been shocked and had looked for somebody to stand up and smite Jacques mightily, but everybody had laughed and answered according to their kind with a frankness equal to Jacques’s…. So now Kendall was apprehensive.
“A-ah!…” said Jacques again, and pointed at Andree. “I ask you if I should not find for you a girl, and you say no. Now I know why…. A-ah!…” He frowned at Andree and waggled his head. “She is nice,” he said, approvingly. Then he appeared to notice Monsieur Robert for the first time and glared at him, glared and poked a long finger under his nose. “He dines with you,” he said, tragically. “You—you make introduce your girl to him…. Oh, là là! What is this? Do you not know that this man steals little girls?… He is ver’ bad. Look you out or he will steal her from you. It is I, Jacques, your friend, who make the warning.” Then suddenly he turned away and flew across the room to kiss a young woman who had just entered with the elderly critic.
Ken was at a loss to know if the fellow had been in earnest or were merely up to his usual capers….
The three at the table chatted, Andree always maintaining that queer reserve, not emerging from her hiding-place, speaking only when directly addressed, and then briefly. Monsieur Robert looked at her frequently, and ever more frequently, for she was a charming picture, and more than once spoke to her in French. She always replied in English.
“I think mademoiselle look ver’ nice on the stage,” he said to Ken. “If only she have the talent.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Pretty eyes and talent for act not always are together,” he said.
“You can’t tell till you try,” said Kendall, colloquially.
“I should like for hear mademoiselle recite one day. Mademoiselle studies Racine?”
“Already I know many parts,” said Andree.
“That is well. Some day you and Capitaine Ware shall come and you shall recite for me, n’est-ce pas?”
“Oui, monsieur,” she said, primly.
“There is but one way to enter into the stage,” he continued. “It is the Conservatoire. Then, if one make the success, there is the Comédie Française…. But it is not easy to enter into the Conservatoire.”
“Mais non…. It is ver’ difficult,” she said, despairingly.
“Ah…. But if some one speak for you? Then it ees not the same—it ees differen’…. But we shall see. Capitaine Ware ees my frien’. I would oblige him. Also I would oblige mademoiselle.” He looked at her rather intently. “We shall see.”
The roast chicken arrived, surrounded by cress and swimming in a delicious sauce. Conversation languished. From time to time Kendall turned to look at Andree, for it always delighted him to see her eat, she was so intent about it. She went about it as if eating were an intricate problem requiring concentration…. And presently they fell to chatting in fragmentary fashion, Andree translating for both Kendall and Monsieur Robert, and it was very jolly and pleasant…. Kendall did not notice how often the young actor glanced at Andree….
Presently they were through and monsieur was compelled to hurry away because he had a part in the piece that was playing that evening. “I mus’ see you ver’ soon,” he said to them both, but with his eyes intently upon Andree’s—which dropped before his gaze. “I mus’ hear mademoiselle recite.”
“We’ll fix it up,” said Ken. “Good night.” They shook hands and Monsieur Robert bent to kiss Andree’s hand, bent gracefully, with a charming air that was half joking, half serious. It set upon him well. “Good night,” he said, and hastened toward the theater.
“I like him,” said Kendall.
Andree looked at him quickly, her face expressionless. “Yes?” she said.
“How can I say? I do not know him…. He is ver’ handsome.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you like him or not—so long as he gets you into that Conservatoire thing.”
She did not reply.
They walked the best part of a block before she spoke. “It is ver’ nécessaire for me to enter into the Conservatoire…. Oh, ver’ nécessaire…. I mus’ earn money. I have no money. I mus’ earn it for myself, because there is no one to earn it for me…. You do not onderstan’…. Sometime, before the war, yo’ng girls say they do not need to earn money, because they marry. All will be wives and the husbands they will earn…. Now it ees not so—non—it ees differen’…. You onderstan’? Many, many yo’ng girl mus’ learn to earn money, and because they will always be alone…. There can be no one….”
“It does mean a lot to you, doesn’t it? I’ll be mighty happy if I can help.”
She was silent again for a time and then said, suddenly, as if thinking aloud, “I theenk I can enter into the Conservatoire if I want to….”
“It was not anything.”
He scarcely heard her; his mind was not on what she said, for he was thinking to himself, “I must tell her…. I must tell her now,” and was nerving himself up to make the announcement of his departure.
“Andree,” he said, and stopped.
“Do you love me?” he said, procrastinating. It was not what he had intended to say.
“Yes.” She spoke very sweetly. “And you?” The question sounded so charming from her lips, the tone and the manner of it were rare and lovely; they seemed to say, “I know you love me, but it is sweet—very sweet—to hear you say so.” The street was dark and he drew her close to him, and so they walked, his arm about her waist, she responding to his touch so deliciously.
“I love you—I do love you,” he said.
“It is well…. I am ver’ happy.”
“I—I’ve got to go away…. Only for a day or two,” he hastened to say. “It’s just a little trip.”
“To-night?” Her tone was so strange, so startled, so shocked. “To-night?”
“Orders,” he said. “Nothing could take me away from you but orders.”
She had drawn away from him, and was striving to peer into his face, but the darkness prevented. She was striving to read from his eyes if he were telling the truth. She had feared his going—this young man from strange America. The possibility of his going had become a nightmare to her—always present in the profound recesses of her thoughts.
“Where?” she asked.
“To the front.”
“O-oh!…” It was not an exclamation, it was a suppressed cry. It was one of the things she had feared, that this young soldier would be sent from her to the hell of battle, and that he would not return, as the brothers and the husbands and the sweethearts of her acquaintances had gone—to be swallowed up and to be seen no more on earth…. He was going…. The thing was going to happen to her…. Her man—the man she loved—was going to become a sacrifice as those millions of other men had become sacrifices.
He had feared that she would cry, that she would cling to him with sobs and beg him not to go, that she might make some sort of regrettable scene, but she did not. But she was very still with the stillness of the stricken.
“C’est la guerre,” she said in a whisper.
It is the war—that phrase so often heard, which excuses everything, accounts for everything. But now it had a deeper meaning. This was the war! This parting was the war—this giving of a loved one to death, and this remaining behind in an agony of fear and of loneliness—this was indeed the war!… To men war is one thing—it is a grim fight, it is suffering and wounds, it is bravery and glory…. To man war, at its most, can mean only death. But to a woman who sends her man it means more, infinitely, terribly more. It means that she may be deprived of all that makes life desirable. It means that she must remain behind to fear and to suffer, and then, when the feared news arrives, to face a life that is not life, a life without love, without companionship…. A life with the smile snatched away and with the heart robbed of laughter! It means that from her the one, the great, the vital thing is to be forever missing, and that the future is to be nothing but day following day…. War means that men must die…. War means that women must continue to live!
“You mustn’t worry…. I—I sha’n’t be in the fighting. I’m just going to get certain information.” He had looked forward to boasting to her about how he would stand under fire. He would have done it in such a way that it would not have sounded like boasting, but in a mock-modest way. He had wanted to show her that he was actually going into it to take his chance with the rest…. Now he had no thought but to reassure her; he had no desire to take unto himself the heroic. “I promise you to come back,” he said. “I sha’n’t be hurt…. It is only a day or two, and you mustn’t be afraid…. Why”—here he lied—“I may not even be near to danger.”
She shook her head. “I know,” she said. And then: “I shall not let you be hurt…. I shall prevent it.” Like a little Spartan, she was herself again, speaking like her own self, almost gaily. “Do you theenk I should let you be hurt?… Oh no! Not in the least.” She was being brave and calm—for him!
“I will be back surely in four days—the fourth day from to-day…. Then I shall see you. We will make the engagement now.”
“I shall dine with Arlette,” she said, with a little laugh. “I will come there—it is easier—sept heures.”
“Yes,” she said, quietly.
“I—by gad!—I do love you.”
She touched his cheek gently with her finger. “And there will be many petites minutes,” she said. “We shall have much happiness.”
“I hope so.”
“And you will be fidèle—when you go away from me? You will not find a yo’ng girl at the front—in the trenches? Promise me?” She was laughing gaily now.
“If I find a girl in the trenches,” he said, “I will give her to the boche.”
“It is well,” she said, and clapped her hands merrily.
They were close to the Metro station at the Palais Royal now, and, for their parting, paused in the blackness of a recess.
“I can’t go home with you—do you mind?”
For a moment she clung to him, the fear that was upon her manifest in the trembling of her little body. “Not good-by,” she said. “We must not say good-by.”
“Four days from to-day—without fail.”
“I shall not fail—I shall come, certainement.”
Again their lips met. “Now you must go,” he said, and she turned away slowly and walked in that dainty way of hers toward the entrance to the Metro. He stood watching her, expecting her to turn back, but she did not turn back…. In a moment she disappeared down the stairs. He was miserable….
But he did not understand—or if he did understand he hid the truth from himself—what this parting on this evening was to Andree…. Last night she had confessed that she loved him, and had made him a promise, a promise that he half understood, but which he pretended to himself he did not understand at all…. Perhaps he did not really grasp the extent of her surrender, for young men, American young men of such upbringing as his, and such code of ethics as he knew, are not equipped to understand—and sometimes nature has made them very dull…. He had drifted along with Andree until he was beyond his depth. To drift had been so easy, for his heart had told him Andree was good—was nice…. Now he hid from himself that he was apprehensive of what might come, just as he tried to hide from himself that his own viewpoint was changed, and that a thing which had seemed very wrong and squalid and unthinkable was not, perhaps, so evil as his mother might assert.
At any rate, he had arrived at this point—he would not draw back. Andree was good, and he loved and respected Andree. And … it was very confusing … he was young and decent and as clean of mind as a man may be…. But—he was seeing and learning. Plymouth Rock could not legislate for the world nor impose its prudery and falsity—a prudery and falsity that made it a punishable offense for a husband to kiss his wife on the Sabbath day—upon an older world well able to legislate for itself. America was America. Well and good! Let America live according to the code it had chosen…. France was France. Who, save only Deity Itself, could assert that France was less virtuous, less in accord with the wishes of the Supreme Composer of Ethical Systems, because the ethics of France were not the ethics of Plymouth, Massachusetts, or of Detroit, Michigan?
But Kendall did not realize—how could he realize it?—that to Andree, after her promise of the night before, this parting had been in all its essentials as if she had been deserted upon her bridal night….
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