In the morning Paris stopped in groups to whisper and to point off to the northeastward. Paris was apprehensive. It had been awakened before dawn by the distant rumble of cannon, such a rumble as had never before come to its ears, and it wanted to know the reason for it. The guns had never sounded so loudly. Was it that the boches had made a fresh advance and were by that much nearer to the defenses of the city? Or had it been some huge air raid turned abortive before it reached its objective?… It was the 15th of July.
Slowly, by devious channels, the news spread. The enemy had struck again, had launched such a blow as warfare had not seen up to this period…. And Paris waited for the outcome. Then dull explosions were heard in various parts of the city at regular intervals…. Big Bertha was at her work again; the long-range cannon was once more bombarding Paris. As in the days past, one might see wagons loaded high with trunks and personal belongings moving toward a gate of the city or toward a railway station as the more apprehensive abandoned their homes for places of greater security. These were days when it was impossible to find tenants for the top floors of apartment-houses. There was a feeling that one was safer from Bertha and the bomb with at least one étage between him and the roof….
Papers were eagerly snatched from kiosks and from news-venders, who ran through the crowds with such speed that it was almost impossible to buy their wares—but the news was scanty. At least the guns were not heard again. After that first tremendous artillery preparation there was no sound from the direction of Château-Thierry and Reims. The silence, the pall which the censorship threw over events, was portentous, threatening. People recalled the inexorability of the last two German attacks. If this one proceeded as its predecessors had done, Paris would be made untenable. There would be a siege…. There was talk of complete evacuation.
Then tidings of a more encouraging nature filtered in. The boches had advanced a little here and there, had been checked at this and that point. There had been no breaking through, no headlong rush upon Paris, no marching down roads in columns of four with guns over shoulders.
On the 16th the apprehension was less, but the tension was still present. The 17th saw Paris again almost at the normal of war-times. It was reassured. It was rumored that Foch had given his word that Paris was safe. The magic of one man’s name was potent to reassure the millions of citizens of the metropolis. If Foch said Paris was safe, then Paris was safe.
Then came the 18th, which dawned as other days dawn, with the same sun rising in the east, with the same blue skies above, and the same breezes moving over the surface of the same earth. But it was a day not like other days. History may well set it down as the Day of Days, for it marked the beginning of the end, the first note of the finale of the crashing, discordant Germanic opera…. The Allies had counterattacked, and fear was dead. That was the significant thing. The 18th of July, A.D., 1918, marked the death of fear in the heart of Paris. From that date onward there would be no news but good news. Terror of the Hun had become a thing which one remembered but would no more experience.
The Élysées Palace Hôtel knew by night that our First and Second divisions had struck at the base of the German salient about Reims and that our Twenty-sixth Division had battered the apex before Château-Thierry—and at last the American Expeditionary Force was in the war. The Americans had come! The Americans were ready! The Americans had started! Number 10 rue Ste.-Anne knew these things, as did the American censorship high up in the Bourse. It was a day of exultation for Americans in Paris….
In spite of censorships, in spite of military secrecy, in spite of minute precautions, rumors circulate through armies which have an undeniable basis of fact. On the 4th of July Kendall heard the soldiers of the First Division stating confidently that they would march through Paris streets on Bastille Day. No one had told them. Nobody knew how the rumor earned its life, but it was there, and the event proved its reliability. So an army rumor receives a degree of belief which does not seem to be warranted. Rumors were a plentiful harvest now; big rumors and little rumors … and among them, circulating through the officers of the Intelligence Department in Paris, was the whisper that some officer or officers were to be sent back to America either on a mission or to undertake permanent work.
Ken heard this prophecy early in the morning, and it troubled him. He had no cause for imagining that he would be selected, yet he might be selected. The chances were, perhaps, minute, but, nevertheless, they were present, and it was far from his desire to be returned to America to run down German sympathizers in Hoboken or to take a desk in some crowded bureau in Washington. While he was in France there always was the hope that he might be transferred to active duty with some regiment at the front. Like all men in the American Expeditionary Force, he wanted to serve at the front, and he did not want to return to America—at least until the work was done. Man after man Kendall had heard to speak longingly of America, but to couple with his homesickness the quick statement that he did not want to return until the job was done. It was a sort of religion—the cleaning up of that job. Somehow each man seemed to feel that the success of the army depended on his presence, and that to be sent home before victory arrived would be to deprive him of something precious which he had earned…. It was so with Ken.
But he had a stronger motive than most for wishing to stay in France. It was Andree….
Suddenly and very poignantly he realized what it would mean if he were compelled to part from Andree. It seemed to him that she had become a part of him, an essential part without which he could not continue. She had brought an essence into his life which was sweet and desirable and wonderful. He knew that no other woman could bring to him what Andree had brought so unconsciously, yet so generously…. She was Andree!… Andree! The world could show but one.
What was to be the outcome? It was a question he had evaded time and again, well knowing that it must some day be faced. He did not face it now, though it urged itself upon his attention. He did not believe the world had seen a more precious thing than their love—and yet, because of his training and the imprint of heredity, that love was questionable, tainted with irregularity. It was good, sweet, pure, but it was irregular as the Middle West and Plymouth Rock perceived irregularity.
He had never known Andree to utter an immodest word or to think a thought that was not clean and good. He had wondered at a certain diffident loftiness in her thoughts. She was a woman whose soul was to be regarded with awe, as any virtuous soul is to be regarded with awe. He did not believe he saw her falsely, nor that love blinded him to defects which should be apparent. He knew he saw her truly, and that she was worthy of all his love…. And yet his friends, his neighbors—above all, his mother—would despise her as a woman of light virtue, as a thing of evil…. He could see the seething among the gossips if Andree were to be set down in their midst, and he despised them…. But—
Again he evaded. He had not the courage to ask himself what he would do when the moment for doing arrived…. He could not give her up. That was the thought that came now—that she was indispensable…. But would he have the courage to face the vestibule of the Presbyterian church with her? He did not ask.
One of those moods of depression to which he was liable when his reflections were troubled settled upon him. He was acutely unhappy. Those moods possessed a physical sensation, not a pain so much as a consciousness of the existence of his body, which was very disturbing. It was as if his arms and legs had suddenly become vivid. At such times he did not want companionship, could not have answered conversational advances. The life within him seemed to become as putty—a dead mass. The only relief was to walk and walk and walk.
He left the office to trudge to the apartment, meaning to eat lightly and to wander about Paris until the obsession was ejected…. At the entrance to the building the concierge was standing, waiting for him.
“Oh, monsieur … monsieur,” she said, and broke forth into weeping.
He was not surprised. Such scenes were to be expected in those days when every mail brought word that some loved one had been demanded of his country. He patted her shoulder awkwardly.
“You have had evil news, madame,” he said. “I am so sorry.”
Through her tears rage flared. “The boches,” she exclaimed. “Why is it that the good God allows such creatures to be!… What good can it do them? But they would laugh and be joyous. It is so. I have read…. These killers of babies!”
“What is it, madame? Your son? Have you had the news?”
“My son, monsieur, is gone these two years,” she said, not without a lift of the shoulders. “It would not be that. When one is a soldier one must march…. To kill the men—that is war. But the babies—the helpless little babies!… They are not men, monsieur, but monsters….”
“Yes…. Yes,” he answered, not knowing what to say.
“And monsieur loved her, did he not? It was Arlette who declared it to be so. Always she spoke of the fondness of monsieur for the petite fille—the tiny Arlette.”
“Little Arlette! What do you mean, madame? What has happened to little Arlette?”
“La longue portée, monsieur. Again it began to fire this day. It is that you have heard its explosions…. This Big Bertha of the boche that murders babies!… La pauvre enfant! She is playing in the street before her home. Out of the sky comes the shell of this so wicked cannon. There is a noise of great frightfulness.” She covered her eyes. “When the smoke makes to lift itself and one can see—there lies little Arlette….”
“Killed!” Kendall felt something that was rage and grief clutch his throat. “Have they killed that child?”
“She still lives, monsieur, and asks for you. It is so…. But she will die. It is dreadful. Yes…. Both legs, monsieur, at the knee. They were swept from beneath her as with a scythe … and she still lives—asking for monsieur.”
She told him the hospital, and without a word he turned, running, to search for a taxicab. The thing was incredible. Little Arlette, that mite from fairyland, maimed and bleeding and dying. Such things could not be. This was not war…. He raged, though tears were wet upon his cheeks…. As he rode, the dainty figure of the child stood before him, chin upraised, mouth opened birdwise to sing. He saw her as if she were real…. And then he saw that scene in the street: children playing, the sun daring to shine…. A sudden rushing in the air above, a tremendous detonation. He saw it all, even to the most minute happening. He saw little Arlette standing erect, stricken with sudden fear, saw the burst of the explosion, saw the child diminish suddenly in stature as her little legs were flicked from under her and she dropped upon bleeding stumps before toppling to the pavement…. He uttered a hoarse groan of protest…. He cowered back into a corner of the taxicab and shut his eyes, as if that could shut out the pictures of his imagination.
And she had called for him!
It seemed he was expected at the hospital, for he was escorted immediately to the little bed upon which Arlette lay. He had dreaded to see her, flinching from a sight which he apprehended might be horrible. He forced himself to look … and the horror passed. The little face upon the pillow was bloodless, her eyes closed. She seemed not alive, but a thing of fragile loveliness carved from some material brought into being by the fairies for this very purpose…. There was no trace of pain—only motionlessness, a mysterious gravity … and peace. Old Arlette sat with eyes fixed unwaveringly on the little face; the child’s mother cowered with her face against Arlette’s ample shoulder…. Ken stood in silence.
The nurse touched his arm. “Speak to her,” she whispered. “It will make no difference. She has asked many times for you.”
“It will not—harm her to arouse her?”
“Nothing can harm her.”
Kendall understood. Little Arlette was past hurt now, and he had been brought there to give to the child her last little moment of happiness…. He knelt by the cot.
“Mignonne,” he said, softly.
She opened her eyes and stared at him, and then smiled.
“He is come. Regard him. I said he would come.” Her voice was so faint as to be almost no voice at all.
“Of a certainty I have come,” he said. “What could keep me away from my little sweetheart?… Does—does it hurt?”
“Hurt?” She seemed vaguely surprised. “What should hurt, monsieur?” She did not know what had happened to her.
“May I kiss you?” he asked.
“But yes. Is it not that I am to be your wife? I wish you to kiss me.”
“Do you love me very much, mignonne?”
“Oh, very much…. We shall be very happy, monsieur, in this America of the North. I am too little to be married now, is it not? But it will not be long…. My grandmother says I grow very fast.”
“I have seen it myself.”
She sighed. “I am glad. I had fear that you might grow tired of waiting….”
“I would wait for you forever, mignonne.”
Again she smiled. “I shall sing for monsieur. One should stand up to sing … but grandmother says I must not stand up to-day.”
“Will it harm her?” Kendall asked, quickly, of the nurse.
“Nothing will harm her,” she repeated.
“Then sing, dear … sing ‘Madelon.’”
The birdlike lips opened and the song came forth, faint as a morning breeze, that song of the little barmaid who stands to the poilu for the wife or sweetheart at home, the little barmaid whom he kisses in his loneliness, and in kissing her feels that he is touching the lips of one far away…. It was a song which, to Middle-Western ears, sounded strangely on the lips of a dying child, but it did not offend Kendall…. It sprang from the soul of France.
There ceased to be any semblance of an air to the song; it became a faint whisper, halting, coming now a word at a time. Arlette’s eyes were closed…. Now her lips moved, but there was no sound…. Presently the lips ceased to move….
Kendall turned to the nurse, who nodded. He arose suddenly, looked down upon the child and then rushed from the room … and as he traversed the corridor he found himself repeating again and again: “With a song on her lips…. With a song on her lips….”
For two months experiences had been jostling one another to enter Kendall Ware’s life. It seemed as if there was a conspiracy among events to modify him, to change the fiber of him, and to break down the structure that had been himself when he landed in France. As compared with these past sixty days the previous ten thousand days of his life had been colorless and without life…. It had required twenty-seven years of personal existence and more than one generation of predecessors to make him what he was—and now a mere fraction of time, a handful of minutes, were striving to undo all that had been accomplished and to create a new being. The question to be answered was: Can the present overcome the past? Can events master the fiber growth of heredity? It seemed an experiment to determine if individuality is a fixed quantity or if it is subject to revolution…. So far it might be asserted that Kendall had been modified—but no more.
Little Arlette had been a bit of humor in his life—no more. He had been unconscious that she was anything more. But now in her catastrophe she loomed larger and assumed significance. His was a world of symbolisms, a religion of symbolisms. As his mother saw the hand of God in every event—the hand of God interposed with direct reference to herself—so Kendall, in a minor degree, and perhaps with something of unconsciousness, was subject to the same obsession. He looked for the lessons of events. He was apprehensive of the warnings of events. An implacable God regarded him under lowering brows and now and then caused an event to occur for his guidance…. So he looked for the significance of Arlette’s murder.
He had an uncomfortable feeling that innocence had been caused to perish for his benefit—as a lesson to him. It made him a sort of accessory after the fact. He rebelled in a vague way, feeling dimly that God had no right to implicate him in such a crime. Old catch phrases came back to him as he walked toward his home, phrases such as that one must search for the divine purpose behind the event; that the ways of God pass human understanding; that it is all for the best!… There was no comfort in these. He could descry no divine purpose. For that matter, he could find no divine purpose back of the war…. Yet God permitted it, furthered it, as it were…. And because it was, because Divinity permitted it to occur, it followed indisputably that it must be right for it to occur…. He would not have dared to define his creed as stating that his God was one who committed wholesale crime that a remote benefit might accrue. Yet that was his creed and the creed of hundreds of thousands of his fellow-countrymen…. It was strange that he should remember Andree’s attitude toward God at that moment—her saying that the eyes of the good God must be wet with tears to see a wickedness. But he did remember, and was grateful to her.
He wandered in a maze of gloomy theorizings, a maze which was nothing but a maze, which led to no desired center. It was the struggle between present and past, and it was a drawn battle. It only left him bewildered and gloomy, treading a bog and miring at every step…. Then he became aware that he wanted Andree, that she was necessary to him, because there was something simple and sure about her. She gave him a handhold to cling to. He felt that she knew, and he wanted the security and uplift of her knowledge. The universe was toppling, and Andree could stabilize it again—but Andree was not coming…. He felt he would never need her more than at this moment, but she was residing in her land of mystery, and he had neither her name nor address….
The stark fact was that little Arlette was dead—and with a song on her tiny lips. He would never again think of France without thinking of Arlette … without seeing Arlette as a symbol of something at once pure and ruthless….
Now began a phase of Kendall Ware’s life which was to continue for a matter of six weeks, a period full of conflict between anomalies, of indecisions, of procrastinations. There stood out high moments of happiness, and there were dark descents into unlighted realms of self-distrust. He questioned everything, doubted everything, and most especially did he doubt his own ability to weigh events and to choose between the better and the worse. He almost doubted if he had the power of choice and felt a dour leaning toward predestination. Much of this was self-deception, and conscious self-deception. He was becoming increasingly aware of a day when he would have to make a choice and reach a decision, but he was afraid of that day. He knew the choice was his, and could belong to no other individual or force. He must choose. The event was in his keeping.
Three major questions presented themselves: First, what was he going to do about Andree? Second, what was he going to do about Maude Knox? And, third, which was interwoven with the first, what about the vestibule of the Presbyterian church?
Ken had not the least doubt that he loved Andree. That was the one sure fact in the whole confused mass. He loved Andree and Andree loved him. To many young men, perhaps to most, this alone would have answered all his questions. Perhaps the ordinary young man would have thought of nothing else, but, perceiving that Andree was essential to him, he would have taken her and made her his own in permanence with due forms of marriage. This would have been the natural step for youth to take—disregarding consequences and challenging the future. But Ken was not an ordinary young man. He was a young man who was afraid of the future, who had been brought up to know a lively fear of the opinion of the community among which he lived. “What will folks say?” was a question he had heard propounded from his earliest childhood, until the thing that “they” would say had assumed a place of importance in his affairs second to nothing. It had almost confused his perceptions of right and wrong, for, even as a small boy, it had been made to appear to him that his mother was not so much concerned with the righteousness of any given act as she was by the effect of that act upon her circle of neighbors. Undoubtedly this was a mistaken notion, but it had at least the color of truth.
He recalled vividly how a certain prominent member of his church had become an absconder and the coming of the news of it into his household. He remembered how his father had said: “Mother, we don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Maybe he’s more sinned against than sinning. We don’t know….” His mother had rejected that view harshly. “Whatever will people say about him? It’ll be terrible on his wife, and him so prominent in the church.” She had not said, “What will God say about him?” but, “What will people say?” His sin, so it had seemed to Ken’s young mind, had not been so much in absconding with money as it had been in creating adverse talk…. This attitude of mind had altered somewhat with years, but never had his fear of clacking tongues diminished. It stood for the supreme punishment of evil … not hell, but gossip.
So his first and third questions stood together, and he dared not force himself to answer them. The second question could not be answered until he had satisfied the other two…. There came a fourth question, upon which, ultimately, must hang the answers to all, and that was, “Can a man marry a woman with whom he has had such a relation as I have had with Andree?” In other words, could he, by his own act, unfit Andree to become his own wife? This question did not present itself poignantly for some time, but it was beginning to formulate in the back of his mind. As yet he was considering only the expediency of matters; later he would find trouble with their moral and sociological aspects.
Matters further complicated themselves when Maude Knox informed him that she had been assigned permanently to an administrative position in Paris. He would be compelled to see her frequently. He would want to see her frequently. Somehow this seemed unfair to Andree, but he knew that Maude could not remain in the city without his seeing a great deal of her. Andree would discover this, and what would Andree do about it? With Maude Knox absent her importance receded, was held in abeyance; if she were here she would grow increasingly important—and what would come of it?
“You don’t seem overjoyed,” she said.
“I’m glad you’re going to be here,” he said, “but just the same, I wish you weren’t.”
“Why? You aren’t compelled to have anything to do with me if you don’t want to.”
“That’s it. I am compelled, and I don’t know whether I want to or not.”
“Well!…” She drew the word out to its full value. “I must say you’re frank.”
“Please don’t be offended. I don’t mean to be offensive, but things have gotten so rottenly complicated with me that I’m afraid of another complication.”
“And I’m a complication?”
He nodded. “You know it,” he said. “I think you know more about what a complication you are than I do.”
“You are thinking Andree will be jealous.”
“I’m thinking she may have cause to be jealous.”
“And you don’t want her to have?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know…. I don’t want anything ever to happen to make her unhappy. You and I have talked pretty frankly, haven’t we? Somehow you seem to understand things over here, though you are as American as I am—and you—well, you don’t make a fuss. But even at that, you don’t know how I feel about her…. Maybe I’m going to be in love with you, and maybe I’m in love with you already. I don’t know…. But I do know that I love her.”
“If you are by way of making love to me you’ve invented a new method.”
“I’m not making love to you. I guess I’m trying to reason things out aloud.”
“Using me as a wall to bounce your ball against.”
He smiled without mirth. “Something like that. I know I love Andree, but yet I can see myself in love with you…. I’ve asked you before if a man can be in love with two girls at the same time.”
“I don’t know. Not in the same way, anyhow.”
“It would be different. If I did love you I would be thinking about marriage all the time. It would mean marriage. I would want you for my wife…. But Andree—she doesn’t mean that. At least marriage doesn’t figure in it. I can’t explain exactly, but it’s as if there never had been such a thing in the world as marriage—only love.”
“I’m not sure but that is better. Even if I am American I don’t know but I’d rather have that kind.”
“Andree isn’t just an adventure, an incident. She’s more important than that—the most important thing that ever happened to me…. I can’t explain. I can feel it, but I can’t express what it is. It isn’t that I couldn’t marry her, nor that I wouldn’t be mighty lucky to have her for a wife…. It seems, somehow, that marriage doesn’t signify—isn’t necessary.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re trying to get at.”
“I don’t, either. I’m trying to find out…. But I do know that I don’t want to hurt her or make her sorry she has loved me.”
“How about me?” she asked, suddenly.
“How about hurting me?” she asked. “You’ve made a weird sort of love to me. You’ve balanced on the fence and told me you might fall in love with me. You’ve carried on a sort of rubber-elastic courtship—ready to snap back out of reach if I seemed likely to catch you…. Have you thought about me at all? Really, I’ve some right to be considered.”
She was right. Undoubtedly he had not been fair to her. He had thought only of himself and of his sentiments toward her, but scarcely at all of her sentiments toward him.
“Why,” he said, “I don’t believe I’ve thought of that side of it. It never occurred to me that you—that you might be in love with me.”
“Well, I’m not.” She spoke sharply.
“Do you mean you never could be?”
“There! Of all things!… You want me to tell you that if you make up your mind to condescend to love me I’ll be ready to drop into your hands. You want to have your cake and eat it. I’d say you were the most completely selfish person I’ve ever encountered.”
“Really I’m not. It isn’t selfishness…. It’s just that I am so confused by the whole situation that I don’t know what to do…. You don’t know how relieved and happy I would be if there was nobody but you, and we were going to be married. You are just the kind of wife—”
“That your neighbors would approve of,” she interrupted. “I know. What I don’t know is why I keep on talking to you like this. I ought to send you about your business and tell you never to come near me again … but I’m not going to. You’ve told me in effect that you would be in love with me if it weren’t for somebody else, and that the only reason you are pleased to consider me as a candidate at all is because you are afraid your family and your neighbors would make a fuss if you took the other woman home. That’s the truth, and you know it is.”
“Well,” he said, ruefully, and not wisely, “so long as you don’t love me, what does it matter?”
“So long as I don’t love you it doesn’t matter in the least.”
She shook her head. “We sha’n’t talk about my loving you. I’m not going to love you.”
“Do you mean that?”
“You wouldn’t marry me?”
“Of course not.”
“Really, I think you’re out of your mind. Even if I loved you—which I don’t—do you think I’d sit and wait for you to reason out that you had better fall in love with me, and then grab you with wild eagerness—after you make up your mind to chuck another woman whom you have assured me that you do love?”
“But suppose I do love you? Would the fact of my—my affair with Andree prevent you from marrying me?”
“If you loved me and I loved you nothing in the world would stop me from marrying you.”
“Anyhow, I’ve got that question answered.”
“And much good may it do you.”
“Because the condition doesn’t exist. If it did exist I might answer differently. I might think then that I could never marry a man who had done such a thing.”
This conversation took place at noon in a little café on the rue St.-Honoré not distant from the Y. M. C. A. headquarters. Kendall had met Maude Knox as he was seeking a place to lunch, and they had gone together. Now he wished he might sit and argue the question until his status with her was definitely settled, if it could be definitely settled, but she refused to pursue the subject.
“No, that’s all we talk about that. You can pick out any subject you want to, but we are through talking about you and me…. And, besides, I’ve got to get back to work.”
“When shall we have dinner together?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re angry with me.”
“No, but I’m disgusted with myself because I’m not. If I had a spark of pride I’d never speak to you again.”
“Ken Ware, you are a miracle of denseness. Don’t you know that this whole conversation has been impossible—that it couldn’t have happened? I never imagined such cool effrontery! But I’m not offended, and I don’t know why…. I’ll dine with you some evening soon—but not to touch this subject again. Don’t ever mention it—never! I’ve got some rights to be thought about, and I’m going to think about them. There are just two things you may do: either propose to me out and out, so I can refuse you, or else treat me as a friend, and no trimmings. I mean it!”
“But I don’t want to do either.”
“You’ll have to.” She laughed, and slid deftly from behind the table. “Are you going to walk up the street with me?”
“Let me pay the check.”
He called a waiter and asked for l’addition and then walked to the corner of the rue d’Aguesseau with Maude. She did not permit him to linger.
“Good-by,” she said, turning abruptly away. “Drop me a note when you feel in a condescending mood.”
That evening when he got home he found Bert and Madeleine there ahead of him.
“Andree’s coming, too,” said Bert. “I met her this afternoon and told her there was going to be a party…. This is a farewell. See Madeleine’s tears?”
“Yes. I’m going away for a couple of weeks—some buildings to look after. I don’t mind, but Madeleine’s darn near heartbroken.”
“Oh yes,” said Madeleine, gaily. “My heart it break. I am so lonely…. You see, Monsieur Bert he is the on’y American officier in France. When he is gone, there is no other.”
“You don’t mean that,” said Ken.
“Of course she does,” Bert said, with a grin.
Ken shrugged his shoulders and went to his room to tidy up a bit for dinner. He heard them laugh, and Bert’s voice said, “He thinks we are very naughty.”
He did think so, but in spite of himself he liked Madeleine, indeed, felt a real friendship for her. She was not like Andree, but she possessed qualities which could not pass unnoticed. She was generous, kind, always concerned for Bert’s comfort and financial welfare. There was not a mercenary hair in her head, if there was not a serious hair. Even though there was nothing deep and enduring and lofty in her relations with Bert, there was nothing sordid. She was seeking her little moments of happiness, seeking them lightly, gaily, carelessly…. Ken excused his own conduct because it was concerned with a great love and a beautiful fidelity. There were no such matters between Bert and Madeleine, yet Ken could not find it in his heart to denounce her as bad. According to all his standards she was bad—a light creature. But, somehow, he did not see her as a light woman nor as wicked.
It would have been difficult to find any one more different from Andree…. Ken had become used to accepting Andree’s judgments in large measure, and Andree did not declare Madeleine méchante. She, too, liked the girl, accepted her as a friend and equal…. It was all a part of this strange world with its upsetting standards….
The bell interrupted his moral reflections and he hurried to the door with that thrill of anticipation which Andree’s arrival always caused…. There she stood, very straight and still and grave, just as he knew she would be. She raised her eyes to his exactly as he knew she would raise them, and smiled appealingly. He drew her inside, into his arms.
“I’ve been needing you, mignonne,” he said. “Everything goes wrong when you’re not with me.”
“I am here,” she said, brightly. “Behol’! all is now well. I shall let nothing trouble you.”
“Do you love me?”
“Yes…. And you?”
“You are very beautiful.”
“That is well…. No, I am not beautiful, but it is well you theenk it is so. I am happy.”
She regarded him solicitously. “You are ver’ tired. Have you work’ beaucoup? It is not that you have an illness?”
“No…. No. Everything is all right now that you are here. You are the only person who is right in the whole world.”
“Oh!… Oh!… I am ver’ wonderful! I do not know thees till I meet you. I theenk I am only a yo’ng girl, but behol’! I have ver’ suddenly become—how do you say?—The dictionnaire—queek. The dictionnaire!” Laughing gaily, she searched with ludicrous haste for the word and could not find it. “Oh, it is terrible! W’at I am I cannot say. I am something that ees not in the dictionnaire. To be a thing that is not in the dictionnaire is mos’ grand and étonnant—astonishing. I shall to be ver’ vain.”
Her eyes were dancing with an impish light. She seemed very young, a child, endowed with some magical quality which reassured him, dispelled the heaviness which rested on him.
“Have Monsieur Bert and Mademoiselle Madeleine yet arrive’?”
“They’re in the salon.”
“Come. We shall see them—now.” Again that quaint gesture of poking downward at the floor with a slender finger. “Thees minute.”
The girls shook hands formally and lapsed into an amazing splutter of French. Ken looked from one to the other, from Andree, tiny, fragile, dark, elfin, to Madeleine, tall, slender, fair of hair, always laughing. Madeleine seemed nothing but embodied laughter; Andree seemed to him now as she always seemed to him, a mystery, incomprehensible—a being come to him out of a land of wonders.
“Bert is going away,” he said.
“For how long?”
“Oh, it ees a lifetime. Mademoiselle will be ver’ sad.”
“She says not,” Ken said.
“It is not possible. She will be mos’ sad.”
“Not Madeleine,” said Bert. “She’s going to find another American officer to keep her happy while I’m gone.”
“But she could not—non, non! You do not theenk!”
Madeleine laughed gaily.
“What would you do if I went away for three weeks?” Ken asked.
“You do not go!… It ees not true.” Her eyes grew big and her lips parted as she waited for his answer.
“No, I’m not going any place…. But if I should go, what would you do?”
“I should be ver’ solitaire. Ver’ often I should weep. And I should work ver’ hard at all times—to make the days go more fast.”
“Would you find another American officer to help you pass the time?”
“You know,” she said, simply.
“Oh, là là!” exclaimed Madeleine. “Regard these children. It ees the great love. Toujours fidèle. It ees mos’ beautiful.”
“It is ever’thing,” said Andree. “You, mademoiselle, love a ver’ little. So you are happy a ver’ little. N’est-ce pas? I love ver’ much, so I am happy ver’ much. It is clear. You theenk you are mos’ happy, but you do not know. It is not until you love, mademoiselle, until you love weeth all the love there is that you have the great happiness.”
“It may be so…. But also the great sadness. Is it not so? Regard me. I love thees Monsieur Bert a leetle. He makes to go away, so I am sad a leetle. Yes? But, then, I love him so ver’, ver’ much and he makes to go away. And then?…” She shrugged her shoulders. “Behol’—then I am in despair. I theenk my way is more better. Not the great joy, but also not the great sadness.”
“Non!… Non!… It ees not so. There is the great sadness, it is true. Certainement! But even that, mademoiselle, is sweet. Bicause one remembers the great love and the great joy. The so great happiness has been. It will nevair die. No. For so long as one lives the happiness will remain…. The grief—one must expect grief…. It is a part of the worl’.”
“Vous êtes un poète, mademoiselle…. You write the poetry. Therefore you are different. The poet makes of sadness a great thing, a wonderful thing…. But I—I, mademoiselle, am cashier in a shop. I do not have the so beautiful thoughts. No, I am jus’ a girl that loves to be happy always. I cannot think the wonderful thoughts like the poet—non. To me it seems that ver’ many leetle happinesses without a sorrow are more better than one great, wonderful happiness of the poet—but also with the terrible grief that makes to kill…. So I love a little and laugh all the days and am ver’ content.”
“Would you not wish to love—to have forever one man and to love him weeth the great love?”
“Ah, that is another matter. Always to have one lover, one husband! It is different. Then I would love—yes. I would love as much as any one…. But it is not possible. Do I not know? Where do I get the husband? Pouf! There is no husband for me, and as for lovers—thees American lovers—they come, and it is a little while when they go. So I do not love. I make believe to love, and so I am happy…. But why, mademoiselle, give to one of them the great love when one knows well it is but for a day? It is to throw away the love, is it not?”
Andree was silent; all were silent. Madeleine had thrust the situation before Kendall and Andree baldly. Ken drew Andree to him, but she did not respond; she was cold, frightened.
“But for a day …” she said.
“Monsieur Bert and I we do not deceive ourselves. We tell each other that thees is not for always…. It is play—so there is no cloud between us…. But you—oh, you are ver’ wrong, mademoiselle. In your heart you know…. You love Monsieur Ken and he loves you—it is true. But—ask him the question, mademoiselle—does he stay forever? Or, when the day comes on which he mus’ depart, will he take you weeth him to thees America?… Ask him, mademoiselle, and if he tell you you shall be weeth him always, then I am wrong.” She looked at Ken. He was conscious that Andree was looking at him appealingly, and that even Bert was demanding something of him with his eyes.
He might have lied. He might have assured Andree that she should never leave him, but with her eyes upon him he could not lie…. He did not know. This was the thing that was making him miserable—the question of whether he should take Andree to America with him…. He did not know. Therefore he answered, lamely:
“I love you, mignonne.”
“It ees not an answer,” said Madeleine, inexorably.
“I can’t answer…. I can’t see the future…. I don’t know. All I know, Andree, is that I do love you. Why can’t we be satisfied with that until we have to decide?… The war will be long. I shall be here for years, perhaps…. Oh, my dear, I cannot think of a life without you—but I do not know….”
He was conscious that he was proving inadequate to the situation, that he was not measuring up to what Andree had a right to expect of him, and he was afraid of what she might do or say. Madeleine shrugged her shoulders expressively. He looked at Andree apprehensively, saw her eyes flash with anger, her little figure grow tense, her lips compress. It was the first time he had ever seen her angry…. He had offended her. She was in a rage with him, and rightly in a rage…. She stepped close to him and clasped his arm with both hands, turning her face toward Madeleine and Bert.
“See!” she exclaimed, and her black eyes flashed, “you have make him unhappy weeth your questions…. I shall not have questions asked of him…. Non! He shall not be troubled. It is not the affair of any one but himself and me…. I will not permit it…. What is it to you? It is for us alone. If it is nécessaire that he leave me one day—that is for him to say. Is it that I have ask or demand anything? Non, non, non!… He is ver’ good, and I love him—jus’ like he love’ me…. I know that and I am satisfy…. You shall not make him to be unhappy weeth questions….”
She faced them, tense, breathing rapidly. Her hands clutched his arm and pressed it to her breast….
“Andree …” he said, hoarsely. “Andree …”
She smiled up at him, her face softening, her eyes becoming big and tender. “Ever’thing is well,” she said.
Bert drew a long breath. “By Jupiter!” he said, and there was admiration in his eyes. “I’ll tell you what, Andree, if you’ll have me, if you can put up with a roughneck like me, I’ll take you for keeps … and to hell with the consequences.”
Madeleine laughed and shook her head. “You see how fidèle thees Monsieur Bert is…. Là là! But you shall not have heem, mademoiselle, until I am through weeth him…. See, there is the head of Arlette…. Let us have the dinner and be gay!”