Kendall Ware and Bert Stanley went early to petit déjeuner in the dining-room of the Union, for they had decided to move before the day’s work began. The waitress laid her order-slips on the table, and as she did so Kendall noticed that her eyes were red and swollen with weeping and that it was with difficulty that she restrained her sobs.
“Mademoiselle is sad this morning,” he said, sympathetically.
“Oui, monsieur, very sad…. Oh, it is my brother! The word came in the night. The boches have killed him….”
“Poor kid!” said Kendall. It was his first direct contact with the sadness of war, and it affected him strongly. Evidences of this sort had been all about him, but this was so close!
“He was the last,” she said, finding comfort in his sympathy. “There were three brothers …”
“It’s rotten,” Kendall said when she moved away. “Rotten. These poor women!…”
Bert made no reply. He was not the sort to voice sympathy if he felt it, nor was he the sort to be moved as Kendall was moved. He was more objective, less emotional—a trifle boisterous and swanking and not given to peering below the surface of events. It was his motto to take what came and make the best of it. On the whole, he was a careless, buoyant, thoughtless young American whose two great objects in life were to get on in the world and to have a good time. He had none of the scruples and inhibitions that made Kendall Ware more complex—not that he was unscrupulous; not that he was not an ordinarily square, able, decent sort of boy, but there did not reside in him that meticulous ethical sense that Kendall had inherited from his mother, and which had been softened and made finer by inheritances from his father.
“Four sons out of one family,” said Kendall, “and there are thousands of such cases, I suppose.” He stopped. “And every man killed is not a loss to his mother and sisters alone—but to the girl he was going to marry or had just married. After this war, Bert, where in thunder are the girls of France going to find enough husbands to go around?”
“They aren’t,” Bert said, and then he grinned. “That’s why the American Army is so popular with them. Every one of us is a possible husband, so look out, young fellow.”
“A million—maybe two million—girls with nobody to marry…. It’s hell!”
“It’s up to us to do our best to keep them from worrying about it,” said Bert, characteristically. “Come on, we’ve got to hustle.”
They loaded down a taxicab with their trunks and rolls and were driven to their new home. The concierge, naïvely proud of having two American officers as her tenants, bustled about them in genuine, motherly welcome. Kendall liked the brightness of her smile, it was so brisk, so alert; he liked her looks as a whole…. Why, she might have been his aunt, he thought. She had the look of an aunt, the sort a nephew would delight to visit.
“I have your cuisinière,” she said. “I recommend her. She will please messieurs…. But she is large, une bonne femme. She comes to-morrow and she is called Arlette. All things may be left to her, do you understand? Yes, yes, Arlette will see to all, to the marketing and the accounts—if messieurs les officiers desire. Shall you dine at home to-morrow evening?”
Bert looked at Kendall.
“I had an engagement with Madeleine. Don’t see why we shouldn’t dine here, though.”
“Why,” Kendall said, hesitatingly, “Andree said she wanted to meet you and Madeleine—and to see the apartment. We might—” He was still reluctant.
But Bert settled the thing for him out of hand. “Dinner for four, if you please. At seventy-thirty.”
“A nice dinner,” Kendall added, rather apprehensively. “There will be ladies.”
He watched the concierge’s face to see how this news would affect her. Apparently it did not affect her at all.
“Of a surety,” she said, “Arlette shall be notified.”
The young men disposed of their traps temporarily and walked to their offices.
“I heard of a bully place to eat,” said Bert. He was always finding new and excellent and quaint cafés. “Up on the rue de Richelieu. Marty’s they call it. A French officer told me about it—says it’s mostly patronized by actors from the Comédie and artists and newspaper men. Suppose we take a look.”
“Suits me,” said Kendall. “Meet you in the Union at seven.”
Kendall was more anxious to see Marty’s than he would have admitted to Bert; as soon as Bert mentioned the fact that its habitués were actors he wanted to go to the place very badly. He wanted to see what French actors were like—and actresses. In his whole life he had never seen an actor off the stage, had never been especially curious about them, but now it was different. Andree was going to be an actress if she could, and he wanted to see for himself what sort of creature she would be when she came to be one.
Since he left Andree the night before he had been filled with uneasiness. Again and again he reviewed his conversation with her and found it disturbing. He had rather lost his head, he perceived. He had told her he loved her when, so he declared to himself, he did not love her in the least, and the fact that she had made light of his declaration and had refused to believe in the possibility of a so-sudden affection helped the situation very little. What troubled him most was that he had made a start of some kind, to travel some sort of path. He didn’t know what sort of path it was nor whither it led, but he was vaguely apprehensive of it. He fancied that half-meant declaration of his had altered the status of himself and Andree altogether, and placed them on a different basis. But he was wrong…. He remembered that he wanted to kiss her, but was not inclined to take himself to task for that. What could be more natural than to want to kiss Andree? He never saw anybody who was more kissable…. Again and again he consoled himself by conjuring up her face and studying it, and by remembering her modesty, her reserve, her sweetness and goodness. Of course it was all right. There wasn’t the slightest danger with a girl like Andree—if, of course, they didn’t actually fall in love with each other. He didn’t want to do that. Andree was a foreigner. She was not American, but of another race, speaking another language. This may sound droll, but how many Americans are there who would have felt exactly as Kendall felt!
Therefore the idea of marriage did not occur to him as of the possibilities. He could not imagine himself marrying a foreigner. Here his mother functioned without hindrance. She had been against all foreigners. To her a foreigner had been a sort of freak of nature, a distressing accident. Anybody who was not English had been guilty of some sort of obscure offense against nature. Of course there were degrees of foreignness—some, as the Chinese, were more guilty than others—but it was a difference in degree and that was all. This was a basic fact to her, a part of her, and, without consciously instructing Kendall, she had impressed her way of thinking upon him until it was his own. He did not think of marriage with Andree any more than he would have thought of eating a rose….
As a matter of fact, he didn’t know just what he did think of in connection with her. He had no definite hopes. She had occurred in his life and now he was drifting along, letting matters take care of themselves. He simply was without intentions of any sort…. But he was vaguely uneasy.
At seven-thirty Kendall and Bert entered Marty’s a bit diffidently, as young men do who go to a place where they are uncertain of just how to behave. It was a dingy little café, poorly lighted and rather crowded with things. One passed a sort of bar upon which were piled langoustes and melons, and behind which was madame, very fat and capable, surrounded by bottles of various kinds, and keeping an efficient eye on her patrons and upon the finances of the institution. A half-partition of glass separated the bar from the rest of the room, which was filled with tables in parallel rows, with a narrow aisle down the middle. When filled to capacity the café might contain as many as thirty persons.
Madame bade them welcome with a smile and a bon soir, and motioned them to proceed to a table. They seated themselves and looked about. Only a few persons were present, but before a stout waitress dressed in black had taken their order a considerable party entered and took seats directly opposite. There were four men and two women. Almost simultaneously a fifth young man entered noisily. He waved his cane in the air as he hobbled in, for he had an artificial leg, and shouted greetings to everybody. He was rather tall and very thin and pale, but exceedingly jaunty. His felt hat, a disreputable affair, was askew on his head, and there was something rakish about even his limp. With many gestures and apparent great excitement he rushed from one table to the other, shaking hands with everybody, and once in a while stooping to kiss a girl on the cheek. Everybody laughed with him and at him. At last his eyes perceived Kendall and Bert and he came lunging across to them.
“Ha!” he shouted, throatily. “Americans! Welcome! I shall sit at your table and we shall be acquainted, is it not? You see I spik Engleesh ver’ fine. Behol’! I shall sit here.”
“Have nothing to do with him,” a handsome young man called to Kendall in French. “He thinks you have sugar.” And everybody laughed.
The young man leaped to his feet, waved his arms above his head, and glared at his accuser. “Bah!” he shouted, explosively. “You are nothing …” and sat down very suddenly, apparently forgetting the whole incident, for he leaned over the table to Kendall and said: “It is an argument—yes. You shall decide, is it not? A foolish argument. Behol’—if there is a king in Siam—eh, you observe?—and he is rich, oh, ver’, ver’ rich. You onderstand? Yes? Also, if there is a—what you call—a electric button here”—he turned wildly and shoved his thumb against the partition as if he were ringing an electric bell—“if I could press this button—do you understand?—and thees king in Siam is dead—oh, queek, sudden, like thees”—he caught a long thumb-nail against his upper teeth and snapped it—“so…. Now, then, if I can so to push the button and thees king is dead, and all his money is mine—the argument, messieurs, is—shall I do it. Voilà!…” He leaned back and regarded them gravely.
“Give it a push,” said Bert.
“Ah, you theenk!…” He leaped again to his feet and extended his hand across the table to Bert, who took it and shook hands rather embarrassedly.
“I am Jacques,” said the young man. “We must to know one another. You are named—ah, Monsieur Bert…. Monsieur Ken-dall. Ha!… All my friends there, regard. Messieurs Bert and Ken-dall—my frien’s…. My frien’s—Messieurs Bert and Ken-dall. Now we are acquaint’, is it not? So…. You see that yo’ng man who spill soup on his coat. He is Monsieur Robert, great comedian at the Comédie Française. Oui, he make the first prize at the Académie one year ago…. That other, with the hair so…. He is espagnol…. Oui. Also an actor, but not a comedian. He does so.” Jacques illustrated by scowling horribly in imitation of the tragic method. “He also make the first prize at the Académie before two year…. They are ver’ clever.” Both young men so described got to their feet and came across to shake hands. “Those others,” continued Jacques, in full voice, “are jus’ boys an’ girl. You onderstand? Not anybody…. That one who look so jealous at hees girl—he make the dress for ladies. Oui. He have much money, but no brains.” At this mot everybody shouted with laughter, and the girl who accompanied the maker of dresses disentangled herself from him and came across to sit down by Kendall, putting her cheek up to him.
“She wants you should kees,” said Jacques, and Kendall shamefacedly planted a hurried kiss on her cheek. “And now you shall see—thees yo’ng man with her, he is ver’ jealous. Perhaps he shall beat her w’en they arrive at home…. Oui….”
Kendall proffered a cigarette to Jacques, and then extended his case toward the young actors across the aisle. They were real American cigarettes, one of which will do more to carry you into the good graces of a poilu than many bottles of vin ordinaire. Both young men came across, not too eagerly, and helped themselves. Monsieur Robert, the younger, and a very handsome, boyish, pleasing young man, seated himself in the chair the dressmaker’s companion had just vacated. He understood a word of English, but dared not venture an attempt to speak it; however, he was exceedingly cordial in French. Kendall managed to understand most that he said. It was a very laughable, but somewhat risqué, account of a conversation he had essayed with an Englishwoman during a recent engagement in London, carried on through the agency of a dictionary. Purely through accident the young man’s finger had pointed to a certain word when it should have been directed to quite another—with the result that he received a sound box on the ear. He told the thing with such boyish delight, and with such naïve joy in the outraged prudery of the Englishwoman, that Kendall laughed as he had laughed at nothing for months. This pleased the young actor. If Kendall had been diplomatically angling for Monsieur Robert’s friendship, he could not have contrived better.
Suddenly he remembered Andree. “You must know a famous actor,” she had commanded him. Andree desired the good offices of an actor in her effort to enter the Académie—and this young gentleman had carried off the first prize in that national institution but a year before…. He regarded Monsieur Robert with new interest.
While Kendall and Monsieur Robert made merry, if difficult, conversational progress, Bert was instructing Jacques in colloquial American in a manner to which his rather grotesque sense of humor was peculiarly adapted. “If you meet a lady,” he was saying, “and she bids you good afternoon, the thing to say, if you want to be really polite, is, ‘Go jump in the lake.’ Of course you don’t say this to a lady the first time you meet her, because it is rather friendly, but possibly the second time. Do you understand?”
“But surely…. Go jump in the lake…. Ah, it has a sound, has it not? I like that.” He stood up, placed his hand on his heart and bowed to Bert profoundly. “Ah, madame,” he said, in honeyed tones, “you should go to jump in the lake…. Is it so you say it? It is a phrase. I shall remember it. And what does one say if—”
Kendall lost the next lesson, for Monsieur Robert arose and shook hands warmly. “I hope you shall dine here often,” he said. “Me, I always dine here…. So we shall become better acquainted.”
Others of the company took their departure to their theaters or with their actor companions, or to write their criticisms, and as they went out, laughing and jostling, each stopped at the table of the Americans to shake hands and to say good evening. It was all very genial and companionable—a sort of family affair—but very un-American and droll.
Kendall and Bert took their departure soon afterward. The evening was rather hot, but they determined to walk home, a distance of a couple of miles. As they were passing the Hôtel Wagram, Kendall glanced inside and saw, standing just within the lobby, the Miss Knox who had been his playmate on the voyage across the Atlantic.
“Wait a minute. Here’s a girl I know,” he said to Bert, and led his companion inside.
“Well, Captain Ware!” she exclaimed. “I was wondering if I should ever see you again. What have you been doing? Have you been to the front?”
“No. I’m anchored in Paris. And you?”
“I’ve been down at Tours, but now I’ve been ordered to report at headquarters here. I don’t know where I shall be sent.”
“Better get assigned to Paris,” he said, rashly, “then we can play around together.”
“I don’t know…. I’d rather be nearer things. It’s more interesting.”
“Anyhow, you’ll be here a day or two. Can’t you take dinner with me to-morrow”——he stopped, hesitated, got a bit red, and finished, lamely—“soon?”
“It looks as if I might have competition as a playmate,” she said, dryly. “Is she nice? Who is she? Red Cross or Y. M. C. A.?”
She laughed. “And your French is so miserable,” she said. “How do you talk to her?”
“She speaks some English,” said Kendall, falling into a trap which had not been set for him, and Bert and Maude Knox laughed as he reddened with embarrassment.
“Is she pretty?” Miss Knox demanded of Bert.
“I don’t think so,” Bert said, solemnly. “He keeps her under cover. She must be homely or he’d let her be seen.”
“Now I won’t buy you a dinner,” Kendall said.
“When I am so hungry!” she said, dolefully.
“Don’t blame Ken,” Bert said. “She hardly lets him have an evening to himself.”
“Well,” said Miss Knox, “if you do get a night off I’ll be glad to see you. Probably I won’t be here but a couple of days, though. You come, too, Captain Stanley, if you like.”
“And pay for half of the dinner,” said Bert. “That’s fair. Half the young lady, half the dinner-check. Simple justice.”
“Now I’ve got to run up to my room. I think—mind, I only think—I’m going to have a bath. If the bathtub is still there, and if the water hasn’t stopped running, and if a few other things haven’t happened to the plumbing—Good night…. Don’t think of coming, Captain Ware, if it will make any trouble with your friend.”
The two young officers walked on up the street. Kendall did not feel like talking. He was thinking about Andree and comparing her with Maude Knox. He was wondering what Andree would think of Maude, and what Maude would think of Andree. Also he wondered a bit what Maude thought about him and what sort of an affair she believed him to be carrying on with Andree…. Not that it mattered to him in the least what she thought, but—
At last they stood before the building in which their apartment was located. Bert pulled the bell and presently the lock clicked. They pushed open the huge door and stepped into the blackness of the court, lighting matches to find the light-button. It was a climb of four flights of stairs to their rooms, which they entered with some pride of possession and sat down to have a final smoke before going to bed.
“I wonder what the concierge will say to our bringing the girls here for dinner to-morrow night?” Kendall said, for the point still worried him.
“Young man,” said Bert, drowsily, “you aren’t in Detroit. Go to the window and reassure yourself. This is Paris….”
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