She disappeared into the darkness



Kendall Ware had been two weeks in Paris; he had learned many things, absorbed many things, but as his observations grew he discovered depths to his ignorance that were not apparent to him on the day of his arrival. The greatest advance he made in those first weeks was in arriving at a knowledge of how little he understood or was equipped to understand of France—and when he said France he did not mean a country, but the people who inhabited the country. Continually he was amused by superficialities; daily he was impressed by profundities. Gradually he came to perceive that one cannot know France by looking at the surface any more than one can gather a knowledge of what is transpiring in the ocean by sailing a little boat over its waves.

A people which can produce Joan of Arc and Robespierre, a St. Louis and a Louis the Eleventh, a Madame Roland and a Madame du Barry, a Clemenceau and a Calliaux; which is capable of an 1870 and of a 1914, of the Terror and of Verdun—is not one whose complexities can be solved by a twenty-six-year-old American in fourteen days…. The American will make no impression on France, but France will make a profound impression on the American.

From being interested in a city, in its buildings and its beauties, Kendall became interested in its people.

His first reaction to the people was rather romantic. He saw romance in every one. Hotel porters with one arm, wearing the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur, and perhaps the Médaille Militaire excited him. Each one was, in truth, a hero. These men had seen and done. Now they worked at menial tasks, still wearing uniforms, and with those medals on the breast which raised them into the aristocracy of manhood. It was strange to him that a man could be at once an honored hero and a porter…. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité were inscribed on every public building. This was one of the manifestations of Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood. These things really existed, and so a porter could be a decorated hero.

If one addressed a taxi-driver one called him Monsieur, just as if one were addressing the President of the Republic itself. One addressed the gendarmes as Monsieur. One addressed even the turbaned and besashed and betrousered Moroccan street-sweepers as Monsieur if one addressed them at all. Monsieur Poincaré or Monsieur Clemenceau would have given them the same salutation. It was not an affectation; it was not what strangers have called French politeness. It was but a manifestation of Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood. At first it had seemed rather absurd to Kendall, American and republican though he was, but he grew to like it, and somewhat to understand it.

Everywhere he saw heroes wearing medals. It made him feel insignificant and somehow lacking. One could not walk a block without passing officer or poilu with the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor, or the rarer, even more precious, broad yellow stripe of the Military Medal. The narrow green stripe of the ribbon of the War Cross was everywhere. Sometimes the ribbons were elongated to give space to two or three, or, as was the case with one boyish officer, to eight palms…. And every palm the token that its bearer had fought back out of the clutch of Death, performing some act of valor which raised him above the level of an army of heroes….

These soldiers were the first to command Kendall’s interest, but it expanded to cover every one. Ancient drivers of voitures whose horses were always too tired to take him where he wanted to go; the chauffeurs of taxi-cabs who could never understand his French, and who, when he had made them understand, told him they could not take him to his destination because they happened to be heading the other way; the crowds who occupied the tables under the awnings on the sidewalks of the rue de la Paix or the rue Royale; the old women who came to collect two sous if one took a seat along the Champs Élysées or the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne; the soldiers, French, Belgian, Italian, Austrian, Canadian, English, Moroccan, American, who promenaded of evenings and Sundays from the Place de la Concorde to Rond-Point, and the girls with whom they promenaded—all these interested him, and each, as he studied them with boyish naïveté, added something to his education.

He worked hard by day, and often far into the night, but for the most part his evenings were free to investigate life with Bert Stanley, whose investigations were merely of the surface and were rather questings for an hour of amusement…. Sometimes he played bridge with three other Americans at the Union, but he liked best to stroll about the darkened streets, without object or destination.

Little by little he added to his meager store of the language. When he spoke to friends about securing an instructor they laughed at him. “Pick it up…. Talk to people,” they told him. “Sit down on a bench along the Champs Élysées and talk to a girl. They’re as eager to learn English as you are French…. It’s better than a teacher—and a darned sight more pleasant.”

He voiced his distaste for this suggestion. He had been but two weeks in Paris, and very mistakenly had classified all the girls who promenade the Champs Élysées in the evening as women of the streets. His natural decency revolted at any contact, no matter how slight, with these.

“Nine out of ten of those little girls work in shops or offices,” Bert told him. “You haven’t got ’em right, son.”

But Kendall was suspicious. He continued in that attitude until one evening a little girl—she appeared not more than seventeen—sat rather diffidently on the other end of his bench.

“Good night, monsieur,” she said, with quaint pronunciation.

He did not answer, but turned his back with a gesture of repulse.

“Oh, monsieur, please,” she said, timidly. “I am not a bad girl…. See.” She turned her face so that the dim light shone upon it and pointed to her cheeks. “There is not paint. You see. No…. I am a good girl, but monsieur, I am—how do you say solitaire? I learn English…. It will not harm monsieur if I talk with him a little and learn English.”

Kendall regarded her. She was a little thing with clear eyes and a rather pretty face, whose cheeks, as she pointed out, were guiltless of paint. She was not well dressed, though she was neat, chic. And she was so young…. It was apparent to him that she told the truth, and his manner changed toward her.

They talked. It was a conversation which would have aroused the mirth of a listener … but it was remarkable how well each made the other understand; she with slowly pronounced French and a few words of quaint English—he with his small stock of atrociously articulated French…. She worked in a chocolate-shop. She was a refugee from Soissons and an orphan. Her two brothers had been killed at Verdun and her mother and father had died of the war.

“Now I must make to work,” she said, simply. “But I am very solitaire, monsieur…. Oui, je suis trés-solitaire—trés-solitaire.”

“Poor kid!” said Kendall.

She shrugged her shoulders and said, with that calm resignation which is so much to be met with, “C’est la guerre…. It is the war.” That is a phrase which explains everything, excuses anything in France to-day. “C’est la guerre.” One offers it to explain the lateness of trains, the price of cheese, poverty, the lack of sugar, morale, everything great or small. “C’est la guerre” is the countersign of the epoch. It embraces everything.

After an hour she arose, offered her hand charmingly, and said good night and “Merci.” Kendall sat looking after her, feeling the first life movements of a comprehension of the womankind of France. From that moment they assumed a higher place in his thoughts, not yet so high as they deserved, but one rung nearer to the truth. He did not even begin to understand them—not their philosophy of life nor their conception of the relations between the sexes; but he began to ask himself questions to which his education and prejudices and narrownesses could provide no answer. He began to wonder if all he had heard were true; he began to consider, if it were true, was it then necessarily evil. He had been brought up to regard the drinking of any beverage containing alcohol as inherently wicked and as something to be done surreptitiously and with a sort of “devilish” feeling. Here everybody drank wine, and wine contained alcohol, and they did it with no concealment and with no thought that it could be other than normal and perfectly respectable. He considered that, and from it attempted to form a judgment of other things which to him seemed not as they should be. Apparently drinking in France was not a thing of moral turpitude, done as it was done by the French…. Perhaps, then, other matters were the same: evil in Detroit because custom and inherited moral conceptions had made them so; right in Paris because custom and inherited moral conceptions had made them so…. Dimly he was feeling for the conception that an act in itself is not a sin, but the manner of the performance of that act…. This may have been sophistry; it may have been alarmingly faulty moral philosophy, but it marked a step ahead for a young man come of such parentage as Kendall came of. It marked a willingness to listen to argument and to maintain an open mind. His mother, he considered, had never maintained an open mind. She had been dogmatic. To inquire into things was a sin to her. Nothing had been so quick to arouse her anger as an impulse on his part to look for the reasons of things, particularly religious things…. His father had not been like this. True, he had not been of an inquiring turn of mind, but he had seen no especial reason why somebody who wanted to inquire should not be allowed to do so. There was a certain sweetness about his father, a tolerant attitude toward life in general and toward transgressions in particular, that came nearer to the attitude of Jesus Christ than did the hard, unbending, dogmatic almost cruel religion of his mother…. He had inherited from both parents; each had given him something distinctly traceable to each, and both had joined to give him other qualities which were a strange composite of both of them. He was inclined to judge at first sight like his mother, harshly and dogmatically; he was inclined, on second thought, to look for excuses and to forgive what must be judged as evil, like his father. It was a quality composite of the characters of his parents that he placed the abstraction of goodness on a lofty throne, but was inclined to apply its laws with gentleness and mercy rather than with narrowness and hardness…. There were days when he was inclined to narrowness and dogmatism; there were days when he bent quite in the other direction and became over-indulgent.

Following his first experience in conversation with a casually encountered girl, and finding himself to have come off none the worse for it, he repeated the experience several times, and enjoyed it, and came to look forward to the evenings because of the possibility of a pleasant and instructive talk with some girl he would never see again, but from whom he would learn some French and considerable of France…. It was rarely that his sense of propriety was offended or that the attitude of one of his chance companions was other than “nice.” He made no effort to follow up any of these casual meetings, or to centralize his attention upon a single girl. He preferred matters as they were. But he was learning that the ordinary French girl did not resent being accosted by an American, and that when he was lonely he might find charming company without fear of being rebuffed.

On his third Sunday in Paris he was sitting among the trees that border the Champs Élysées. He was lonesome, for Bert Stanley had been absent on a mission for several days. He and Bert were sharing a room at the Union now, a room with two beds, which cost them jointly ten francs a day—and he missed Bert. He had lunched alone that noon and now did not know what to do with himself. It was the first time he had been really homesick, but now he was homesick and uneasy and rather at loose ends. He wished something would happen; that some friend would appear with an entertaining suggestion. So he sat and smoked and watched the passage of the colorful crowd.

Presently he stiffened to interest. In the distance he saw approaching a girl dressed in white. It was the white tam-o’-shanter that had caught his eye. It was familiar. For a moment he could not remember where he had seen it, or why it stirred him to interest, and then he recalled the little girl of the Café Poccardi. He even remembered her name—“Andree.” She came abreast of him and he identified her certainly. It was she, and really more attractive than he had remembered her to be. She walked along with little steps, her body very straight, her bearing very staid. As she walked her eyes remained straight in front of her, as though her mind were on some interest at her destination…. Her profile was prettier than his first picture of her full face had been; there was a daintiness about her lips and her straight little nose, and about the whole of her. If one had been compelled to limit himself to a single word in describing her, he would have been forced to use that word “dainty.”

She passed, and his eyes followed her. Suddenly he stood up with a resolution half formed, a resolution to speak to her. Then he hesitated. She did not look like a person one speaks to without permission or presentation. But it was a chance…. He was lonely and this was rather an adventure, and, besides, he had learned that one is not often rebuffed when making a casual advance. Still Kendall was a bit apprehensive. He walked along behind her irresolute, wondering if he dared, and keying up his courage to dare. At any rate, he would wait until they were out of the crowd; he did not wish the embarrassment of being rebuffed too publicly.

The girl tripped along, almost birdlike in the carriage of her head and in the ensemble of her daintiness. At the Place de la Concorde she turned to her left up the rue Boissy d’Anglas, on one corner of which is the Hôtel Crillon and on the other a high, blank wall of brick. The street was deserted.

Kendall summoned his resolution and overtook her as she entered the shadow of the brick wall. He was rather excited and apprehensive, and stammered a bit as he lifted his hat and said in his best French, “Bon jour, mademoiselle.”

She stopped suddenly and slowly raised her eyes to his face. She was not startled, not frightened, not thrown from her poise in the least.

“Bon jour, monsieur,” she said, with a rising inflection, as one who expresses surprise and inquiry.

Kendall was at a loss. He did not know how to proceed or how to make plausible his action. What little French he knew departed from him, and he stood awkwardly by her side, feeling very idiotic indeed. She waited gravely, with no twinkle in her eye at the rather absurd figure he must have presented.

“Voulez-vous promenade avec moi?” he managed to articulate, at last.

“Pourquoi?” she asked.

Why? Why should she promenade with him? He felt his face reddening, and it was his impulse to clap on his cap and beat a hasty retreat. What answer was there to that why? He could think of nothing whatever to say, and the pause became awkward.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” he asked, desperately.

“Non.”

In sheer desperation he touched her arm and began walking. She walked with him, the merest hint of an amused smile at the corners of her mouth…. At any rate, she was walking with him. That much was accomplished, but, now that he had progressed to this point, what was he to do with her? She was difficult, and not inclined to help him in the least.

“Mademoiselle,” he said, desperately, “I speak very little French. I am very lonesome.” Then, of necessity, he lapsed into his own tongue. “Why in thunder don’t you speak English!” he said, testily.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“With you—if you permit,” he replied.

Again that appalling why. He was to come to know that she used it often; that she shot it at one like an unexpected little arrow when one least looked for it, and rather upset one with it. There came a time when he called her Mademoiselle Pourquoi because of this. “Because—” he answered. “Because— Oh, confound it! I don’t know why. I haven’t any idea. No reason at all. I just want to…. Now if you could only understand that we might get somewhere.”

She was amused—a little. She regarded him gravely, and it was apparent that she was appraising him, satisfying herself as to what sort of a barbarian he was, and possibly as to what he had in mind.

“Will you dine with me?” he asked. That was a phrase he had by heart.

“Why?”

“Same reason,” he said, ruefully, in English. “I’ve got to dine, you’ve got to dine, we’ve got to dine…. Pourquoi, pourquoi, pourquoi—toujours vous dit pourquoi.” This was not remarkably excellent French, but she comprehended, and for the first time she uttered a little laugh. He amused her. From that moment they got along better, for, apparently, she had appraised him as not dangerous.

She began to ask questions, not idly, he judged, but the better to satisfy herself about him.

“Where do you live?”

He told her.

“You are an American?”

“Yes.”

“From what city?”

“Detroit.”

“I do not know it…. What is your grade?” She meant his military rank.

“Captain.”

“Are you married?”

He had rather been expecting that question, for it had been put to him by almost every girl he had talked to. Apparently it was an important question…. In a land where so many, many young men have been sacrificed to war an unmarried man is an important personage. He offers possibilities. Suppose that one million, two millions of men of marriageable age have been slaughtered, there remain at home one or two millions of young women who have no one to marry. This, in France, is not a theory, but a condition, a very real and very terrible condition. A million girls of an age for marriage and no men!…

“No,” he said.

She was silent while they walked the greater part of a block. He repeated again his well-learned phrase, “Will you dine with me?”

“Yes,” she said, in the tone of one making a decision of some moment. “Where?”

“Anywhere you wish.”

They were just passing a little café not distant from the Madeleine, and she stopped hesitatingly, rather speculatively, and there was a subdued twinkle in her eye.

“Here?” she asked.

She was looking for information about this young American, and this was an experiment. The cafe was one of the most expensive in Paris, and doubtless Andree wanted to see how he would act at her suggestion, for reckless spending of money is a thing which your Parisian does not indulge in. Possibly she wanted to find out just how much she attracted him, and one way to do it was to discover if he was willing to spend money on her. It is not impossible that she wondered a bit if he had lots of money, as all Americans are said to do. Your Frenchwoman is not mercenary, but she is practical—and lots of money is an excellent thing to have.

“All right,” he said, in perfect innocence, for he had never seen the place before. It looked rather dingy and not especially attractive. It was very small. So they went in. There was a passage down the middle of the room, with tables on either side, set in solid rows. The waiter moved a table out to admit Andree to the leather bench which ran along the wall. Kendall waited for the table to be replaced so that he could sit across from her, American fashion, but she motioned for him to sit by her side. Young women and men in France sit side by side, not vis-a-vis—and it is a custom not without its advantages.

Ordering was a difficult matter, first because of lack of the language, and second because he was beginning to be very anxious to please this girl and to make a favorable impression on her. With characteristic American generosity or love of displaying his willingness to spend, he would have ordered more than four could have eaten, but she interfered and took the ordering into her own hands—a thing for which he was grateful when the check was presented…. Even when she was making an experiment she could not bear to see money actually wasted.

Kendall studied her covertly. She impressed him as being a grave, very self-possessed young person. The word demure conceals in its meaning something of the provocative. If it were possible to remove that shade of meaning from it, then it would have described Andree exactly. She was demure without being provocative…. And how pretty she was. She grew on one. Those heavily shadowed eyes were really beautiful, and her lips delicately sweet. He made up his mind that she was what he had been accustomed to designate as a lady, which was but another way of saying “nice.”

Out of the corner of his eye he watched her eat. She was very dainty about it, but also very interested. Indeed, she ate in a thoroughly business-like manner, giving her attention fully to her plate. He thought of a bird. Indeed, there was something birdlike about her, but what bird she resembled Kendall could not determine. Possibly it was a composite resemblance…. He liked her very much, but was puzzled by her. She was something quite outside his experience. Her manner puzzled him. She was not what he would have called “offish.” She did not seem wholly at her ease, yet she was much more so than he. She was gravely expectant; concealing herself, perhaps, while she waited for self-disclosure on the part of Kendall.

She would drink but a fraction of a glass of wine and declined a cigarette at the end of the meal…. Then he called for the check and discovered that the rather light repast was to cost him seventy francs. He wondered if Andree were accustomed to eating seventy-franc meals, not knowing that this was the first experience of the kind she had ever had. Seventy francs would have sufficed nearly for her food for a month…. On the whole, she was a mystery to him, and as long as he knew her she continued to remain something of a mystery. He was incapable of solving her.

“Now what shall we do?” he asked.

“We shall walk,” she replied, in quaintly stilted and accented English. The effect was charming.

“Eh?” said Kendall. “You—why, you said you didn’t speak English!”

“Yes,” she said, and smiled, but offered no explanation. But the explanation was clear, even to Kendall. It was because she was making no admission whatever about herself in those first few minutes. It was because she was on the brink of a new experience, was meeting her first American, and because she wanted to find out as much as she could about him without permitting him to learn anything whatever of her—until she was ready to permit it…. He was pleased. Evidently her judgment was favoring him.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Now you can teach me French and I can teach you English.”

“Maybe,” she said, with her reserved smile. “We shall see.”

“Let’s take a taxi out to the Bois de Boulogne,” he suggested.

“It is very expensive…. It is not nécessaire. No, we shall walk.”

They retraced their steps to the Place de la Concorde and walked slowly up the Champs Élysées to the Étoile, and then diagonally to the left and so along the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, that wonderful promenade so dear to Parisians. There they found chairs beside the broad graveled walk and seated themselves. They had progressed very well conversationally, for, though Andree’s English was but little more extensive than Kendall’s French, the two supplemented each other splendidly. A little pocket dictionary which Kendall always carried worked wonders. The little dictionary was a splendid thing, anyway. It grew to be a little joke between them and they laughed over it gaily; Andree became less restrained.

Kendall would start a sentence in French and arrive at a point impassable. Neither English nor French could supply his meaning. “Attendez,” he would say, with mock solemnity, and then would produce the little book, and with heads close together in the dusk they would search it for the word. When they found it Andree would laugh at Kendall’s pronunciation of it…. The dictionary was a great promoter of acquaintance.

He was more and more curious about her. He wanted to know who she was, and what she did, and if she worked for her living, and where she lived, but he could not screw up his courage to direct questions, and she volunteered nothing.

Finally she said, “I must be at my home, for every day I have very much work.”

“What do you work at?” he asked, brashly.

“I must study. Many, many hours every day I must study.”

“What are you studying?”

“Many things…. I must study much, much, for the time is not long…. So I must be at my home now.” She pointed down at the ground with a pretty gesture, a childish gesture, the first manifestation of the sort she had shown him. “I must be at my home now—at this minute. Make me to be there—instantly.” Then she laughed gleefully.

What a charming little thing she was, he thought, and was enchanted by her.

“Nous cherchons un taxi,” he said, trying out his French. Apparently he did reasonably well, for she shook her head.

“It is not nécessaire. No, I shall go on the Metro…. Good-by.”

“But—oh, now listen. I’m to go home with you, of course. And we must see each other often—to learn French and English, you know…. You’re not going to send me away now.”

She considered a moment.

“You may come with me—some…. When I say, then you shall tell me good night. Do you promise?”

“Yes,” he said, “but—”

She arose and he accompanied her to the nearest station of the Metropolitan, into which they descended, he very curious to know where they were proceeding, and entered a passageway labeled “Direction Châtelet.” The train was crowded and there was little opportunity for speech until they changed to take another subterranean train which discharged them at Place St.-Michel—the heart of the Quartier Latin.

So, Kendall thought, she is a student and she lives in the Latin Quarter! There was magic in that thought, romance in it; the very fact of her residence in that fascinating quarter of the city gave her a higher valuation.

They entered the big lift which should have carried them to the street, but the lift declined to rise. They waited amid bursts of laughter from the crowd, and then everybody marched off again in perfect good nature—indeed, rather delighted at a little adventure, for the old soldier who operated the elevator had dined too well that Sunday evening, and in his abounding good spirits had forgotten how to operate his machine. The crowd trudged up-stairs, laughing, not at all peevish as an American crowd in like circumstances would have been; indeed, they were rather in sympathy with the old fellow. Just as they arrived at the top of the stairs the elevator came slowly into view, the conductor stepped off with the air of one who had done a noteworthy thing. He removed his hat and bowed low to the company.

“Regardez!” he said, magnificently. “Voilà…. Voilà!”

Andree laughed prettily and Kendall laughed, and they were advanced another step in their acquaintance by the little incident.

The streets were black as they emerged, and Andree took his arm, leading him diagonally across the Place, past the fountain, and up the Boulevard St.-Michel—the “Boul’ Miche” of fable and story. She permitted him to accompany her for a few blocks, then she halted.

“It is here you must go,” she said. “You must go now.”

“But—”

“Your promise!”

He acquiesced. “I shall see you again?” He essayed the thing in French, “Voulez-vous donnez moi un rendez-vous, mademoiselle?”

“No, no, no, no. It is not so. Écoutez. The right way to say is this, Voulez-vous me donnerai un rendez-vous? It is the future time, do you onderstan’?… You wish to see me again?”

“Yes.”

“Pourquoi?”

“Mademoiselle Pourquoi.” It was the first time he called her so.

It was a liberty, perhaps, but it pleased her, for she gave a little laugh. “You really wish to see me again?”

“Yes, really…. I want to see you—to beat the band.”

“To beat the band?… What is that, monsieur? I do not onderstan’, oh, I do not onderstan’.” She had a way of failing to understand with despair in her voice and her gestures that was very charming.

“L’argot américain,” he explained. “American slang. It means I want to see you very much.”

“It is well.”

“When?… To-morrow? Demain?”

“I cannot to see you to-morrow, for I must work, as I said. Mais in the evening, yes. Sept heure et demi. Do you onderstan’? In the Place St.-Michel, près de la fontaine.”

“At half past seven near the St.-Michel fountain…. And you will be there—certainement?”

“Oui—et vous?”

“Certainement—surely—you bet,” he said, with increasing emphasis.

She held out her hand. “Bonne nuit, monsieur.”

“Good night, mademoiselle…. To-morrow evening at half past seven.”

“Yes,” she said, and disappeared into the darkness.

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