Copyright
F. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) Smith.

The street of the two friends online

. (page 12 of 16)
Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 12 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


etons are those of her parents. They, too, have
been shipwrecked, long ago, when she was little."

"Naturally they fall in love," I interposed.

" Naturally. Enfin! To be brief, he tells her of
his world beyond the great sea, of life. After
months, the lovers are rescued by a passing ship,
and he takes her, whom he calls Undine, to Paris,
educates her, and they are married. Eh, voilal "

"But," I protested, "you must not give me
this. Ah, no, my dear friend! Your narrative,
so ravishing of the little Undine, is yours, not
mine. And, besides, after all these years you
have been developing it."



288 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

:< You will give me that pleasure," he insisted
quietly, and so earnestly that I dared not risk
again offending him. "Even should it serve to
no other purpose than as a little souvenir of our
voyage so bizarre among your people."

"Save it," I begged him, "for your old age -
you who are now young again."

He smiled, seemingly embarrassed, yet there
was no mistaking the light in his blue eyes.

"You do not know the joy of recasting, of
polishing, and repolishing your absorbing little
romance, which you began as a labour of love
for yourself," I ventured to explain. " You
who are free and are not forced to grind out ad-
ventures of the heart under the relentless tyr-
anny of cold-blooded editors, whose sole aim is
to increase their circulation by pampering to a
prudish, fickle, and hypercritical public ah,
I know my good Pavignon. I have tried it!
l Le vrai amour 9 is unknown among my people.
It is not understood. It is not sanctioned. It is
a criminal offence. Parbleu! But on marriage and
divorce they are experts. You would have been
obliged to procure for your delicious little Un-



UNDINE 289

dine first a bathing suit, and then a chaperon."
He broke out into a hearty laugh, forcing
"Undine" deep into my pocket; and, before I
could stop him, had waved me a cheery " Bon-
soir! " and was halfway down the rubber steps on
his way to his cabin.

Two years had slipped by since we parted on
the dock at Hoboken. A month later I re-
turned to Paris, and, save for a letter upon his ar-
rival at New Orleans, I had heard nothing of him.

One late afternoon in June found me moving
with the current of humanity up the boulevard.
I had passed the Cafe Riche, and had halted to
cross the Rue Le Peletier, when a firm hand
gripped my shoulder.

It was Pavignon!

You can imagine my delight at meeting, with
what enthusiasm we turned back to the cafe for
our aperitif, our long talk, and how eagerly I
accepted his invitation to luncheon on the mor-
row. What a change had come over him!
Though he had grown grayer, he looked ten
years younger the last haggard lines gone



290 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

from his face, and only the seams of his genial
smile left in their place.

"I have a surprise for you," he confessed as
we parted.

"Another story?" I laughed.

"A longer one," he returned mysteriously.
" Do not be late. We shall lunch at noon;" and
he rushed for his omnibus.

Had you not been familiar with the Butte de
Montmartre, you would, I am sure, have had
difficulty in finding Monsieur Pavignon's domi-
cile. The summit of the Butte, which is the
cranium of Paris, bristles with tangled old gar-
dens, and is scarred by a labyrinth of narrow
lanes sunk between ancient walls, whose wounds
time has healed by lichens.

Monsieur Pavignon's lane I knew by heart -
a short, silent, exclusive little lane, composed of
two zigzags and a twist. My old friend, Fre-
mentin, the sculptor in wood, lived at the lower
end of this snug byway for years. So did
Louise Rollet, who posed for him but that is
another romance. Monsieur Pavignon lived in
the middle, the third door to the left, an ancient



UNDINE 291

door incased by a wall even older than the door,
and over whose rambling top ran a riot of vines.

I had arrived at his threshold punctually at
noon, pulled at a wire, agitating a garrulous little
bell within the garden, and waited.

Then the door opened, and I looked up into
a pair of blue eyes, and two frank, fair, white
hands were held forth to me in so informal a wel-
come that I only half caught sight of Pavignon
over my hostess's shoulder running to greet me.

"Married! Yes, indeed! Ah, my dear old
friend, and you never told me!"

We were together, all three of us now, moving
among the roses and the mignonette to an invit-
ing table sheltered by the sturdy arms of an
apple tree, still green in its old age, and through
whose cool leaves the warm sunshine touched her
fair, blond hair, faintly streaked with gray.

Close by, snug among the flowers, stood their
nest. Its ancient, gabled roof showing above
the tangle.

It was twilight when I descended the Butte
-alone. It is not gay to be alone. "At seven-
teen," I said to myself, "Madame Pavignon



292 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

must have been adorably beautiful." And, as I
recalled her slight figure and her gentle voice,
there came to me in the dusk the memory of her
blue eyes, "deep as the azure sea," and her fair
hair, which the warm sun had turned to gold.

Had he, after all, refound the Undine of his
youth? I wondered. And, as I mused, there
came to me the vision of a calm, opal sea, and a
young girl bathing, frail as a flower at its mur-
muring edge.

And so I trod on my lonely way down to the
lights of Paris, lights that glittered to-night as I
gazed down upon them, cold as a shroud of
diamonds shriving a wilderness of souls.

Now and then I meet Pavignon on the Rue des Martyrs
and we have a vermouth together, and I am still trying to
translate to him the local humour of Blaumenheil. He has
often told me he has tried to explain it to Madame Pavignon.
To him we are still "bizarre," and he still laughs over our
good voyage together. F. B. S.




CHAPTER NINE
THERESE




CHAPTER NINE

THERESE

NO WONDER the Infant fell in love with
her. He was not the only one in the Latin
Quarter who had fallen in love with Therese.

From that first afternoon, in the stuffy little
Cafe du Dragon, just across the street from the
Atelier Julian, where they had met by chance at
the aperitif hour among a crowd of painters, the
Infant's elastic heart had changed. None of the
dozens of models he knew, and whose addresses
he kept scrawled in charcoal on the wall of his
studio, any longer interested him not even

295



296 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

the few he had grown serious over in the last
two years. Therese was everything to him now.
He found himself in odd moments drawing from
memory her exquisite profile on the paint-
smeared wall well away from the addresses;
one does not install a goddess among the com-
mon herd. At night he lay awake thinking of
her. By day he dreamed of her in a brown study
as he walked through the Luxembourg Gardens
these late afternoons in September. At Julian's
he forgot the living model before him daily, and
half consciously drew Therese, until old Vacinet,
who corrected, was forced to remind him that
mademoiselle before him was not spiritual, but
on the contrary as sturdy and muscular as a Nor-
man peasant.

Therese had promised to pose for him. Ther-
ese had also promised to pose for me. In fact,
she rapped once at my door when I was out and
Marie invited her in and made her a cup of tea,
but somehow she drew the line at the Infant. He
had pleaded as eager as a child across the crowded
table in the Cafe du Dragon, but she had
only smiled and promised - those vague



THERESE 297

promises that women give when they are in
earnest.

Ah, how his heart beat as he left that noisy
crowd in the stuffy little Cafe du Dragon after
she had gone! She had pressed his hand on
leaving a frank pressure of camaraderie which
the Infant wholly misunderstood, but which
warmed him, elated him and sent him back to
his work proud and happy.

When the Infant was happy he grinned. He
was a stocky little chap, hard as oak and quick as
a cat. He had come to Paris fresh from the
saddle in Montana, where he slept under the
stars and ranged cattle for a living and nurtured
a longing in his chest that he wanted to paint.
His voice was pitched low; his jaw, when shut
with decision, was as hard as a bent nail; but you
had only to look into his clear blue eyes to see
that he was reeking with sentiment. I think it
was Marie Vinet, a little model, who used to
come to the Cafe du D6me, who first nicknamed
him the " Infant" yes, I am sure it was Marie;
and being only twenty-four, the Infant accepted
the sobriquet with a grin.



298 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Therese! The image of her tall, lithe, slim
figure her brilliant almond-shaped eyes, her
intensely black hair, which she wore in a bandeau
hah* hiding the tips of her small pink ears, the
ivory whiteness of her skin, filled him with a
memory as fascinating as that seductive smile of
hers which displayed her white teeth and accen-
tuated, when her features were in repose, the
shortness of her upper lip. Thus Therese always
appeared to be smiling; she had but to half close
her eyes to make the illusion complete.

When she walked she seemed to glide, scarcely
lifting her slim feet from the ground; and when
she sat, it was with all the subtle modelling of her
lithe, erect figure, her chin slightly elevated,
gazing at you with the gracious reserve of an
empress and the sauciness of a gamine.

Therese was twenty -three years old. It was
amazing to the Infant how much she knew, but
not to Davidge and myself granted she could
talk upon many subjects that were intellectually
too far advanced for either Mimi or Marie.
She knew a little of medicine, a little of sculpture,
a little of surgery, and spoke of technique of



THERESE 299

impressionism and the modern school. Davidge
and myself were too old rats in the Quarter not
to be able to distinguish this clever varnish she
had picked up here and there from knowledge;
but you could not convince the Infant that it
was simply varnish he knew better.

It was the week after she posed for him as she
had promised that the Infant strolled into Dav-
idge's studio for a chat. Poor Infant ! He had
found Therese as difficult to make love to as the
rest of us. She was very, very serious with him,
and kind more like a sister than anything
else; and that was all. He had told her he loved
her, like many another, and she only smiled and
patted his cheek with the same camaraderie with
which she had pressed his hand. It was that
friendly pat which kept the Infant from despair.
And so in this state of hopeful misery the Infant
had come over for a chat with Davidge. He was
lonely and wanted some one to talk to.

"And you say you consider Therese wise?
You baby!" chuckled Davidge. He gripped
his red-pointed beard and peered down between
his long dangling legs from his painter's scaf-



300 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

folding at the Infant squatting on his studio
floor, gingerly knocking the ashes from his pipe
against the sole of his shoe.

"She knows a lot," he returned slowly with
conviction, "about well, take for instance
what she knows alone about medicine and
and operations and "

"Of course she does; a superficial varnish.
Infant, nothing else," interrupted Davidge, "not
real knowledge." There was old Poubonet -
one of the most skillful surgeons in Paris; he
adored Therese. Mademoiselle could not help
gleaning from his companionship a few house-
hold hints and remedies.

"Tell me she is beautiful," continued Dav-
idge, "and I'll agree with you. She is very
beautiful. You're a lucky dog to have got her
to pose for you, but the profound knowledge you
imagine Therese possesses is pure unadulterated
vernis Parisian varnish of the best quality,
and as deceiving as the enamel on a false pearl.
Scratch through it some day and see for yourself.
The oracle you rave about will prove to be a
myth, and you will find beneath that enamel the



THERESE 301

brain of a coquette and the simple heart of a
blanchisseuse. That is really what Therese once
was, my boy, like a thousand other models in
the Quarter. The Bois de Boulogne is full of
them any afternoon; you can distinguish them
by the crests on their victorias."

The Infant jumped to his feet.

"That's it; go on!" he cried. "Davidge,
you're too blase; you're an ascetic old cynic. I
tell you, there is not a human being in the world
who has not his or her interesting side, and I'm
glad I can see some good in every one. You're
wrong about Therese," he insisted.

"Therese and Courtois and myself dined to-
gether at the Chat Rouge last night," continued
the Infant. "Most of the old crowd were there
- Rene Cassin, Anette, Forbes, Billy Anderson,
the Empress, Dutoit and the rest. Therese kept
them listening for hours. She has her theories,
you know, about the psychology of love, and
talked a lot about jade cutting among the
ancients and the technique of the Dutch
school."

"Gave you a little of each, eh?" queried



302 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Davidge, "while she helped you to the hors-
d'ceuvres?"

"And her memory was something surprising,"
continued the Infant, undeterred in his enthu-
siasm. "There is hardly a verse of Paul Ver-
laine's, Therese does not know by heart."

"There you go again," interrupted the painter,
squeezing a fresh pat of Chinese vermilion on to
his pallette; and turning to the big canvas
squared up in front of the scaffold, he proceeded
to lay in the flesh tones of a flying cherub among
a bevy of nymphs still in a stage of charcoal and
smudge.

"How's that? Too strong?" he called down
to the Infant, referring to the pink smear on the
fugitive God of Love.

"It's all right," replied the Infant, eying the
canvas. "Wait until that ceiling decoration of
yours gets in place; you will need all the forced
colour you're slapping into it now to carry it."

"Therese displayed the keenest insight into
characters," the Infant went on. " Why, she de-
scribed Courtois and myself to a T!"

"Ho, ho!" roared Davidge, wheeling arou



THERESE 303

from his work. "That was the easiest problem
you put to your adorable sphinx? It was like
taking a watch to a watchmaker."

The Infant reddened.

"No offence, old boy," added Davidge by way
of apology, as he climbed down from the scaffold
for a rest and a cigarette; but you can see exactly
what I mean. When you touched on the ques-
tion of men you were in the presence of an ex-
pert."

"She did not roast either of us hah 5 as much as
we expected," confessed the Infant, gouging the
bowl of his pipe into the remnants of a sack of
Virginia.

"And you and mademoiselle will of course
dine again at the Chat Rouge? " laughed Davidge.

"Thursday night," confessed the Infant,
brightening. " Will you come ? "

"Delicious!" exclaimed the painter, bending
over in his voluminous corduroy trousers, as he
scooped a scuttleful of coal from the bottom of
his coalbox and sent the contents clattering into
the small stove.

"Yes, I'll come," he said after a moment's



304 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

hesitation; "but you'll have to stake me through,
if I do. I'm not eating this week that is, not
in public; I won't have a sou until the twenty-
third. Bartet and I have been dining here in
the studio. We've got trust at the grocery in
the Rue de Rennes; the fellow who keeps it is a
pal of Bartet's they were in the same regiment
together."

"You can have anything I've got," said the
Infant. He meant it, although he was then
carrying the remnant of his monthly stipend in
the corner of his vest pocket.

"Good, I'll be there," promised Davidge as
the Infant took his leave.

A narrow flight of stairs wound in a spiral
about an iron column and served as the sole
means of access to a smoky, genial little room
above the cafe of the Chat Rouge, where many
of those who entered nightly were greeted with a
welcoming cheer and often with a kiss from some
Berthe or Mimi or Celestine. They were like
one big family, those good boys and girls, and
their hearts were of gold.



THERESE 805

Such hours as these often came at the end of a
hard day's work or worry. It is never all play
in Bohemia; it is the most serious land I know.

These stairs were a spiral flight that led to
Paradise. How many brutal hobnailed shoes
of idle painters had polished those steps! How
many froufrous and trim ankles had flashed up
them! The high heels of Celeste and the tiny
boots of Marie, all up those stairs, all joyously
tripping up to a bouillabaisse fit not only for a
king but for a latter day grisette and her sweet-
heart, both of whom are as good judges of a
bouillabaisse as any of the crowned heads, and
quite as exacting. Madame Jolivet, who cooked
the famous dish, knew this. That is why this
famous potpourri of lobster and little fishes, of
spices and herbs and things tart and sour and
sweet and peppery, was often delayed in the
smoky little kitchen below stairs for a final touch
of this and a pinch of that before the beaming
Adolphe, his white apron reaching to the toes of
his cracked but carefully polished boots, came
stamping up the spiral flight with the noble dish
at last ready to serve, steaming, savoury and fit



306 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

for the gods, and was greeted as soon as he thrust
his head in the door with cries of: "Oh! Que
c'est beau!" and a clattering, banging, yelling
bedlam of like badinage, all of which the smiling
Adolphe, his broad, honest face red from the
glare of the kitchen fire, enjoyed hugely and re-
turned this good-natured chaff with timely
repartee all out of his bald head.

For Adolphe was a Marseillais, and a Marseil-
lais, they say, is never at a loss for a word. What
he said was merry, good-natured and respectful,
and guarded with as much fact as if he were ad-
dressing his own children, if he had any and
they say he had five.

Verily it was a dinner enfamille.

How many such families grow up in Bohemia
until one by one this one and that one drifts
away, and one wonders whether if ever again life
will seem as dear and as sweet.

The cafe shutters of the Chat Rouge were bat-
tened in place and the chairs stacked on the tables
for the night, when the party of four, consisting
of Therese, Courtois, Davidge and the Infant,
opened the door at the head of the spiral flight.



THERESE 307

Down the quartette came, Therese singing one
of Delmet's ballads, Courtois lending a noble
bass, Davidge a wavering tenor, and the Infant
filling in the gaps mostly off the key.

It had been a beautiful dinner, and they had
remained long after the rest of the old crowd who
shared the dingy little dining room had gone.

It was after two in the morning when the
quartette closed the door of the Chat Rouge be-
hind them. A winter fog hung cold and damp in
the chill air, a fog that had a chill in it like the ah*
from a refrigerator. For some minutes the four
stood chatting on the pavement. An open fiacre,
prowling for a late trip, came clattering up
to the group, the small rawboned horse sliding
most of the way to the gutter on the fog-slimed
cobbles.

Courtois wrapped his coat about him, and say-
ing good-night, swung off in the direction of his
studio, Davidge accompanying him as far as the
Impasse du Maine. Thus Therese and the In-
fant were left alone.

Now that they were alone for a cocker does
not count any more than his horse the Infant



308 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

had grown strangely silent. He would have said
much, but he dared not. The truth was, he did
not like the idea of Therese going home alone at
that hour, and she had stayed with them late
under the distinct understanding that none
should be bothered with escorting her. Even
the Infant's insistence had been in vain.

"Please," pleaded the Infant in a final appeal
as they stood beside the nighthawk; but Therese
shook her head.

:< You are not going to take me home," she
added with final decision. "I live, as you know,
in Montmartre; it is nearly three miles from
here."

"Nonsense," replied the Infant; "I shall get
back to my studio before daylight. I am not
going to let you go home alone. Please be rea-
sonable. It is too far; it is too late; besides, the
horse cannot go to the top of your street. I
know the Rue Lepic; when you leave your fiacre
you will have to walk alone hurriedly, and keep
in the shadow out of the way of any nocturnal
vagabond who comes along at this hour."

"But I am not afraid," insisted Therese; "the



THERESE 309

police walk up my street in pairs. Besides, there
is a good lamp at my corner, which makes it
bright to the door."

"And correspondingly deepens the shadows,"
replied the Infant. "No, Therese, you are not
going alone."

Therese closed her eyes smilingly and laid her
finger on the Infant's lips.

"There is no use arguing the matter with me;
I insist. You are tired, my dear friend," she
said. : 'You have a slight fever; and you will
leave me and go immediately to that box of
yours with a skylight and go to bed. You will
then get up in the morning and write me a little
word, saying you are much better, and will I
come and dine with you to-morrow night; and I
will send you a little word saying I will. We
shall dine alone, you and I, at Pere Moret's. We
shall get a good dinner and cheap. You will
see."

Her foot touched the step of the waiting fiacre
with its coachman swathed in his blanket.

"A bientot" she said, and suddenly she bent
and kissed the Infant on both cheeks.



310 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

"A bientot" replied the Infant, elated and
dazed.

"To the Rue Lepic, Number 19," she said to
the coachman.

"Bien, Madame."

And they were gone in the raw mist.

For some moments the Infant stood gazing
down the deserted street; then he turned back in
the direction of his studio. He felt a certain con-
solation in doing as she had wished.

The route from the Chat Rouge in the Quar-
tier Latin to the steep hill across the Seine lead-
ing to Montmartre is complicated and long,
until it reaches the steep Rue Lepic. At night
along this tortuous course is disclosed the gamut
of human comedy. Here a senator is hurrying
home from a late dinner; there a vagabond
slouches along seeking a night's lodging; at
another corner a lady in an opera cloak steps into
her waiting coupe; at the next a girl shrugs her
shoulders at poverty and waits. In the early
morning it is like a weird and ghostly voyage
in the chill mist. The crooked streets, the lights,
the mushroom growth of chimney pipes and



THERESE 311

uneven gables appear as if suspended in a mir-
age.

The horse that Therese had drawn in a lottery
for a fiacre at so late an hour click-clocked on
with a swinging gait. He was a willing little
beast, and the fat coachman swathed in his horse
blanket chirruped to him an encouraging "Hue,
Cocotte" at the beginning of every street they
turned into. Right and left they swung through
deserted byways of the Quarter. Now they zig-
zagged, first left, then right, all in a twinkling
through a crooked ravine of a street flanked by
the sombre walls of the Institute de France; it
is called the Rue Mazarine, and it brought them
out to the river.

Therese was thinking of the Infant. She be-
gan to compare him rapidly with other men. He
had been considerate; she felt a certain con-
fidence, a certain respect, for this young Ameri-
can. That is why she had posed for him she
felt safe with him. "Yes," she said to herself
as the fiacre swayed on, "he is a child a big
child fine and simple. One does not meet one
like him every day.*'



312 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

She recalled his honest eyes, his earnest
naturalness, his enthusiasm. "I have been
cruel to him," she thought; then she checked her-
self. "Non, non; I must not be a fool," she said
to herself; "he is too serious for that."

Therese shrank back in the moist dust-smeared
cushions of the fiacre and dozed.

When they crossed the Pont du Carrousel she
opened her eyes; the black river swung beneath
the bridge; coloured ribbons of light from the
lantern of the sister bridge above wriggled deep
down in the inky water. In a few moments they
had rattled over the vast cobbled court of the
Louvre and had turned into the Rue de Rivoli.

" Hurry, my old one! " cried Therese, starting
again out of a nap.

"It is understood, Madame," replied the
coachman.

Therese fell asleep. When she awoke again
the fiacre was rattling along past the markets,
down into that damp valley occupied by the
great market east of the Boulevard Sebastopol,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16

Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 12 of 16)