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my heart to my throat.

"Go to bed!" commanded Bela, over his
sweeping bow to the sleepy nephew, who rose
obediently, bowed, and left the room.

"Out!" he thundered brusquely in Hun-
garian to the mattre d'hotel, who had opened the
door indiscreetly.

Before I could summon the mattre d'hotel
back, to my dismay, he, too, disappeared. Un-
able to contain myself longer, I rose, and went
over to the countess.

"This must end," I said, now thoroughly
alarmed. "You will be ill."

She buried her face deep in her hands, shak-
ing her head slowly in reply.

"Countess!" I exclaimed.

She did not raise her head, but broke into
hysterical sobbing.

"Stop! Do you hear?" I cried, and put
forth my hand threateningly toward the black
fiddle and its master.



THE SAVAGE 81

Bela slipped aside and grinned, and a great
dominant chord rose to mock me.

"Do you not see the countess is ill?" I de-
clared, but he paid no heed.

Twice I opened the door, and shouted for the
servants. The great ballroom beyond echoed my
voice.

Again I went to her side.

"Anna!" I pleaded. "Listen to me."

She started at the sound of her name, then
raised her head from her tear-stained hands.

"Play! Play! Play!" she insisted. "Play
to me! Oh, play to me! Play!"

The voice of the black fiddle drowned her
words.

The fight was in me now. I would have done
my best, but I still held my head. He could
have killed me with a blow, and a fight, I knew,
would only make matters worse than they were.
It would create an open scandal, and I dared not
for her sake.

Bela understood me like a flash, as he caught
sight of my clenched hands. Instantly the black
fiddle assumed a tone of apology. It was my



82 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

chance. Much as I dreaded it, I left the room,
and sprang down the corridor, in search of the
night clerk or the maitre d'hotel, who, I knew,
would bring matters to a quiet, respectable
end.

I had not taken three strides in the deserted
ballroom before a stifled cry reached my ears.
As I burst open the door of the private dining
room, the Countess Navieskowska lay in Banda
Bela's arms in a dead faint.

" You dog of a gypsy ! " I shouted.

He wheeled sharply round with a look of in-
solent defiance, still holding her in his arms
slightly clear of her chair. The next instant I
had seized the black fiddle that lay on the
table, and, raising it above my head, threatened
to smash it to pieces over the silver candelabra.

"Here is the end of this devil of yours!" I
cried.

The threat told. He let the countess slip
from his arms. Then he sprang toward me.
Then, to my surprise, halted, a cowardly terror
in his eyes. His voice came weakly, as if the
effort strangled him.



THE SAVAGE 83

"Pardon, Seigneur!" he gasped. "Give me

- give me that."

His outstretched hands shook as if palsied,
yet he dared not touch the black fiddle I still
held threateningly above my head

I glanced at the countess. She lay in the
carved armchair as pale as wax and scarcely
breathing.

"Seigneur!" he cried hoarsely. "I am a dog

- give that to me. It was my father's, Banda
Laczi's."

"Go!" I said, and I passed him the black
fiddle.

By the time I had reached the countess,
Banda Bela had vanished.

After some moments, which seemed inter-
minable, she opened her dark eyes, and stared
at me like a stranger. Then slowly I helped
her to her feet, and, supporting her, we passed
out together through the deserted ballroom.

"It was not your fault, dear friend," she mur-
mured faintly.

She leaned wearily against me, uncertain of
her strength, to gain her waiting carriage.



84 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

And yet, I repeat no woman ever loved
her husband more than the Countess Navies-
kowska. She idolized him, and fought with
that indomitable courage to save him until the
last even when there was no hope.

The nephew leads a band of his own now in Monimartre;
I saw him the other night. He vaguely remembers the coun-
tess and told me confidentially that his uncle's method of
playing a Czardas was old-fashioned. F. B. S.




CHAPTER THREE
VILLA BY THE SEA



My nest beneath the roofs in the Rue des Deux Amis had
became insufferably hot these July days. It was Marie who
advised me to get a rest and some fresh air along the Norman
Coast. She suggested Les Rockers and the Cheval Blanc.
But for Marie's suggestion I should not have seen my friend
Toupin and his Villa Rose. F. B. S.




CHAPTER THREE

VILLA BY THE SEA

alluring poster heralding the opening
< season at Bel- Air-Plage "The Pearl of
the Norman Coast" had been tacked up by
the enterprising real-estate company in every
railroad station from Paris to Trouville.

This happily conceived lithograph resembled
Dinard at its gayest, with Monte Carlo in the
middle distance, and the Garden of Eden fading
away in a violet haze in the background. The
day this polychromatic lie depicted was one of
sparkling sunshine. Famous beauties of the

87



88 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Parisian stage were bathing in an emerald green
and sapphire surf. Golf, tennis, and diabolo
were in full swing on the velvety dunes. Every
child on the perfect beach was exquisitely
dressed and beaming with health. Their sand
forts flaunted the tiny flags of all nations, a con-
vincing proof in itself of Bel-Air's international
popularity. Their mammas were all young and
smartly gowned; everybody owned a new auto-
mobile, and the men of untold wealth and leisure
lolling about their superb cars were smiling in
faultlessly pressed flannels. There was a "joy
of life" about the Pearl of the Norman Coast
that to the gullible bourgeoisie was irresistible.
It is needless to say that nothing the gay poster
depicted existed at Bel-Air.

Bel-Air is a place a crow would avoid. It is
too lonely - too bare. The low, jagged dunes
fronting the sea are flanked by a line of new
brick villas that stand up as stark against the
sky as a row of packing boxes on end. They
have an air of being stranded there at high tide.
A few tufts of wire grass struggle here and there
through the shifting sand for an existence. The



VILLA BY THE SEA 89

solitary pedestrian passing the Pearl of the
Norman Coast after dark whistles for comfort
until he gets by. When it rains, Bel-Air be-
comes even more desolate. It becomes tragic
- but it suits that genial friend of mine, Mon-
sieur Paul Hippolyte Toupin. It is gay enough
at his Villa Rose.

Toupin adores the seashore. He rented the
Villa Rose with enthusiasm. "Paris!" he has
a habit of exclaiming. "Mais c'est la miser e,
mon cher!" ("But 'tis dire misery, my good
fellow!") Despite the fact that this bon viveur
of a Parisian knows the "misery" of Paris as
well as the inside of his pocket, and has, during
most of his fifty years, enjoyed his full share of
its gayety. He has known, too, its strenuous
side, for Toupin has twice been elected deputy,
is decorated with the Legion of Honour, and
has amassed a snug fortune in commerce. His
Villa Rose, another horror in brick with ma-
jolica trimmings, which has the distinction of
being isolated from the end of the line of packing
boxes, is the first to be opened and the last to
be closed.



90 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Its four brick walls afford the only shade in a
ten -acre lot of sand shelving back from the dunes
to the main road. Here there is another box in
brick the Hotel des Amis Reunies out of
whose windows are hung to dry the bathing suits
of some theatrical ladies on vacation, who spend
most of their time in calico wrappers purchased
in Montmartre.

You enter the Toupin property by a white
gate the clasp of the necklace of barbed wire,
back of which, Cosette, a patient mite of a
donkey, is picketed, ready for an emergency,
nosing around the tufts of wire grass within the
limit of her chain, preening her long, velvety
ears for hours in the gentle breeze screening over
the dunes; standing in meditation when it driz-
zles; grateful that she possesses a shady side
when the wind is west and Bel-Air shimmers
under the noonday sun, though her shadow is so
small it is hardly worth while contemplating;
never knowing what hour of the day or night she
may be called upon to save the situation.
Tuesday it was nearly three in the morning be-
fore she got to bed. I have had many a long



VILLA BY THE SEA 91

talk with Cosette, and I am convinced she con-
siders the Villa Rose a maison desfous, which in
candid French means an insane asylum. She
will tell me almost anything entre nous if I will
only scratch her ears, close down where they
emerge from her strong, dusty, little neck.

Toupin bathes early and late. A big green
wave smashing over his fat back in September
makes him roar with delight. He loves to lie
and bake in the hot sand, packing himself well
up to his pointed gray beard, and cracking
away the crust with a yawn when he is suf-
ficiently baked. He loves as well to doze in his
canvas chair, which he fills to the squeezing
point, and whose left leg, still labelled with the
price from the bazaar, creaks ominously under
his weight.

He will often spend the whole day between
tides digging for sand eels, fishing for crabs, and
spading up sputtering clams, and will walk for
miles up the beach, filling his coloured hand-
kerchief with glittering shells. There are days,
too, when Toupin goes rushing off through the
country in his big red car when it runs; and,



9S THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

when it refuses to budge, there is his smaller one
a squat, greasy little automobile, as noisy as
a threshing machine; and when both are out of
commission, which often happens, there is Cos-
etce, whose tub of a cart has all it can do to
cany Toupin on a trot.

Nothing ever worries Toupin. Every day, to
him, rain or shine, or filled with the daily trage-
dies and farce comedies of life, is amusing im-
mensely amusing. His laugh is big and hearty,
like himself, a laugh that subsides hi a high-
keyed chuckle irrepressible, for it bubbles up
from the depths of his good nature. There is a
merry twinkle in his eyes, and his health and
appetite are of the best daily. There is a plenti-
ful sprinkling of gray hairs in his short-cropped
hair and pointed beard, but even these, like
everything else in life, Toupin takes as a joke,
even to the impossible moods of Madame Tou-
pin, who is young and pretty, a captivating little
brunette, slim and nervous, with the dark eyes
of an odalisque, and whose temperament is as
fickle as the sea breeze.

When Madame Toupin assumes a fit of jeal-



VILLA BY THE SEA 93

ousy, plunges into extravagance, becomes the
next day as penitent and silent as a nun, or en-
joys an attack of hysterics Madame Toupin
is as much at home as an actress in all four

-Toupin fills out his big chest with a breath
of sea air, stretches forth his arms in his white
duck suit, and smiles over his flowing black
cravat. The cravat of an artist, which gives
him the air of a happy-go-lucky bohemian.

Toupin has no artistic taste; most of us who
have become slaves to it. A discord in music
makes me wince. A false harmony in colour
affects me with a sensation akin to pain. I am
as fastidious as an epicure in wines, and the pres-
entation of nourishment. Neither can I dine
happily under the brutal glare of a suspension
lamp with a pink-and-green shade, or enjoy the
warmth from a self-feeding stove ornamented
with nickel cupids.

I have a horror, too, of the damp, red table-
cloth and the heavy, clammy, red napkins found
in French villas by the sea, and thrust for future
identification in dull pewter rings bearing the
thumb marks of the maid. All these the good



94 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

bourgeoisie delight in. They are in keeping with
the imitation bronze goddesses of spring and
summer poised on either side of the chocolate-
marble clock, whose pendulum serves as a gilt
swing for a china child.

They are all fresh from the bazaar in the Villa
Rose. Toupin spared no expense. He showed
me the idiot child in the swing with pride, and
reminded me that the clock never lost a minute.
Whereas the Toupins are never on time. It is
safer to invite them to tea to be more or less
sure of their arrival for an eight-o'clock dinner,
which they are more likely to arrive at by nine,
and which Toupin will merrily explain was the
fault of the big car refusing to budge, the thresh-
ing machine out of commission, and Cosette and
two bicycles to the rescue.

At the Villa Rose, the feasts are movable,
breakfast often becoming a late luncheon, din-
ner frequently a midnight supper, and bedtime
close to dawn; yet never have I seen more lavish
hospitality. It needs just such a red table-
cloth of tough fibre to stand the daily onslaught
of steaming dishes, and the wine is sound and



VILLA BY THE SEA 95

subtle musty, cheerful bottles; some hailing
from an ancient chateau in Burgundy, a certain
golden champagne from Rheims, and a smooth,
savage old vintage from Corsica that would
make a pirate chief forsake his ship on the eve of
a conspiracy.

I had been hard at work for a month up the
coast from Bel- Air, in a picturesquely dead old sea
village called Les Rochers, harbouring a plain,
clean little tavern known as the Cheval Blanc,
where a houseful of fellow painters and myself
discussed art at luncheon, and renewed the
tumult at dinner. Those interminable opin-
ionated debates over technique and broken
colour, the true value of the high light, and the
average banality of composition in the modern
school. I had grown satiated with the aesthetic,
and longed for common old Bel-Air, for good old
Toupin, who could not tell a Corot or a Dau-
bigny from a dining-room picture in a bazaar,
and to whom the sun shone, rain or shine, three
hundred and sixty-five days in the year.

Vive la Bourgeoisie!



96 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

"Come and stay with us," Toupin had in-
sisted a dozen times in the last month, but I had
stuck to my unfinished canvases. The red car,
just out of the hospital, and still convalescent,
growled over to Les Rochers this August after-
noon, with orders to stay there or bring me back.

"Three old friends and my little niece are
here," Toupin had added, in his insistent note.

To-day I needed no urging. In half an hour
I had abandoned the Cheval Blanc and its
long-haired pre-Raphaelites, and was en route
for the Villa Rose.

The red car left me at the white gate, smok-
ing like a smudge, and still suffering from lung
trouble on the starboard side, and I wondered
how any man but Toupin could smile when he
had paid eight thousand francs for so blatant a
swindle. Possibly, I thought as I passed
through the white gate, it had been purchased,
like the rest of his seaside possessions, at the
bazaar.

The sun was setting as I stopped to rub Cos-
ette's ears, a red disk sinking into a calm sea as
heavy as oil, and even Cosette was grateful for



VILLA BY THE SEA 97

the cool of the approaching twilight after the
heat of the long day.

Over on the crest of the dunes, to the right of
the Villa Rose, a group of four figures stood
watching me from the platform of a portable
glass summer-house, an unpopular rendezvous
for lovers, but a snug retreat, with its swinging
canvas chairs, when the wind blew. So I left
Cosette, and trudged up hi the heavy sand
toward the group from which Toupin now waved
a welcome to me, looking like a fat Pierrot in his
suit of white duck. He started to wade down
through the sand to meet me, but I waved him
back. Madame Toupin blew me a kiss in
greeting, so did a tall young woman beside her,
whose arm, as I drew nearer, I saw was about my
hostess's neck. I strained my eyes, but could
not recognize her, so I accepted the mark of
affection in the spirit in which it was sent, and
returned it with my best wishes to both.

The fourth figure in the group was that of an
elderly man who, as I came within speaking dis-
tance, ceased talking to the young woman
whose hair I now discovered to be blond



98 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

and, thrusting his hands behind his back,
straightened, and awaited my arrival.

"How goes it, my old one?" cried Toupin,
gripping me heartily by both shoulders as I
leaped to the platform of the summer-house.

Toupin welcomed me with as much enthu-
siasm as if I had been rescued from the sea.
Madame Toupin's dark eyes were alight, her
saucy, nervous mouth opened in a catlike smile,
revealing her w r hite teeth, white as ivory in
contrast to her dark skin and hair. A welcoming
mood that I felt might change the next moment
to one of pique or jealousy. She gave me her
shapely little hand, and drew me firmly toward
her guests.

"But I know him!" laughed the one with the
golden hair, half closing her blue eyes mischiev-
ously as my hostess started to present me.

"Ho! Ho!" roared Toupin. "She is mar-
vellous Marcelle! She knows everybody. It
is true that, Twin? Eh, my little flirt?"

He chuckled, amused at the unexpected little
comedy; and, while I endeavoured to conceal my
puzzled embarrassment, the elderly man shot



VILLA BY THE SEA 99

me a glance from beneath his bushy eyebrows,
disclosing a pair of small Machiavellian black
eyes, as hard and brilliant as polished onyx.

"Mademoiselle Valcourt, Monsieur Ville-
rocque," announced my hostess.

I bowed.

Monsieur Villerocque gravely closed a sen-
sual under lip, framed by a short, square beard,
bent stiffly, and again straightened this time
with a look of sullen suspicion.

"Bonjour, toil" exclaimed my unknown, with
the ease and frankness of a Montmartroise, and
that indescribable timbre of voice one hears in
late cafes.

;< You see, I have a better memory than you,"
she added, and her smile spread to join two
dimples on either side of her retrousse nose
the nose and mouth of a Parisian gamine.

The eyes of Villerocque scrutinized me now
with an intense and sinister brilliancy as I smiled
helplessly at the lady whose memory was better
than my own.

"Tiens!" she laughed. "You don't remem-
ber me? Never mind! Some day I shall tell



100 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

you. In the meantime you may call me Mar-
celle. I hope your studio stove burns
better!"

I shrugged my shoulders helplessly in apology,
forcing my memory to recall where I had seen
that tall, graceful figure, its almost boyish sym-
metry asserting itself beneath her lace waist and
trim walking skirt. Then I lowered my gaze
to her feet, incased in a well-valeted pair of
tan Oxford ties American Oxford ties. Influ-
ence of the Quartier Latin! Ah, a glimmer
of light! Yes, surely! Then, like a flash, the
memory of my old friend Fremier crossed my
brain. Sapristi! Premier's model ! My model
Marcelle!

We would have embraced like good comrades
had I not again felt the eyes in ambush of Mon-
sieur Villerocque.

"Ah! So it is zat zee time goes by!" sighed
Marcelle, lapsing discreetly into her broken
English that Villerocque might not understand.
"Eight years, mon Dieu!"

Instinctively we drew apart from the rest, and
a flood of memories came back to us both.



VILLA BY THE SEA 101

"And Fremier?" I ventured, as we reached
the edge of the platform.

She gazed at the sand, and did not reply.

"I have not seen him in years," I added,
"not since the time we used to feed you candy
to keep you quiet in a pose."

The smile of the gamine returned a gam-
ine grown up, to be sure, but whose good heart
was the same. She made me a little sign, and
we wisely turned back to the rest.

"My stove has a new top," I whispered rap-
idly, not any too sure we should find ourselves
alone again. "At Twenty-two Rue des Deux
Amis you will come soon to say bonjour?"

: 'Yes, my little one," she replied quickly. It
was just like her she, with her big heart
and turned with a laugh to Villerocque, who had
wheeled on his heel, and stood watching in a
sort of slumbering fury a colony of gulls below
him quarrelling over a heaving mass of seaweed
charged with rotten food. I saw Marcelle rest
her chin on his hard shoulder, her coral lips
strained in a smile as he muttered something to
her through his grizzled beard.



102 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

" Marcelle and I were at the same convent to-
gether," Madame Toupin started to confide, as
Toupin slapped me soundly on the back.

"Eh, my old one!" he laughed heartily. "A
good glass of vermouth before dinner, hein?"

And he shouted to his butler, who had sud-
denly appeared on the stoop of the villa.

"Ah, so you know Marcelle," continued
Madame Toupin. " She is a good girl, Marcelle.
Une bonne fille, quoi?" she repeated, in an ac-
cent that again strangely reminded me of Mont-
martre, and its late cafes, especially the "quoi."
"And you knew Premier?" she added graciously,
regaining her married voice.

"For years we used to lunch together daily,"
I declared, "at the Chien qui Danse Mar-
celle, and he, and I for two francs fifty; all
we could eat, and of the best. The patronne is
dead; it costs a gold piece to dine there now."

"Poor Fremier!" sighed my hostess, and
raised the eyes of a nun to mine.

"Dead?" I asked anxiously.

"Married, my dear. Bah! That was stupid
in Fremier."



VILLA BY THE SEA 103

"Poor Marcelle, she loved him," I added,
with relief. "And the aged monsieur?" I ven-
tured. "Ville ViUe Ville- -"

"Villerocque."

"What is he," I inquired, "when he is agree-
able?"

"What you do not know him? Very well,
he is the famous Gaspard Villerocque. It is he
who wins so successfully the big divorce cases in
Paris an old friend of Paul's."

"Eh!" cried Toupin. "Our vermouth!" as
the yellow-waistcoated butler appeared with the
tray. 'You shall soon see my little niece
Lolotte. She is adorable, that infant."

The eyes of the nun became severe.

"Adorable!" roared Toupin bravely, and he
whispered in my ear: "She has gone off with a
young man to hunt for shells. Ah, an excel-
lent fellow young Jacques Latour. Lotte !
Lotte!" he shouted lustily across the dunes.

There came in answer a faint halloo from be-
yond a distant bank of sand.

"Et voila!" cried Toupin rubbing his Hands
with satisfaction. "What did I tell you?" he



104 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

said, turning to his wife. "You see, they are
safe, my dearest."

The eyes of the nun flashed in reply.

"Lotte is nothing but a mere child," explained
madame, with a look of ill -disguised disapproval.
" You are quite crazy, Paul, to have let them go
off alone. It is monstrous."

"Eh, bien, it is 'monstrous,'" laughed Tou-
pin. "You see it is monstrous, my old one.
Et voila!" And he shrugged his shoulders and
chuckled as Madame Toupin's anger rose.

"But since he is an excellent fellow '

I interposed, in the young man's behalf.

"Lotte is barely seventeen!" snapped Ma-
dame. "A child! Quoi? Bah! All you men
are alike. When I was seventeen, Monsieur,"
and her voice sank to a murmur, "I can tell you
I was not allowed to promenade with a young
man alone."

"When you were seventeen," I thought to
myself, as we gathered about the table in the
summer-house, and raised our glasses as the sun
burned down to its rim back of a desert of mol-
ten copper, "when you were seventeen I am



VILLA BY THE SEA 105

pretty firmly convinced you were telling the
story of your life to any young man you chanced
to meet around the Place Blanche. Penses tu?"

There was a subtle philosophy in Toupin's
immaterial gayety which I was just beginning to
divine the reason of.

Villerocque stood at my elbow. He drained
his glass in noisy gulps, setting it back method-
ically on the table, smacked his lips thrice, and
cleared his grizzled throat while I lay about
me for something to say to him to break the
ice, as it were, that lay between myself and this
hard old man, whose grim talent had won a
fortune in separating forever those who had
once loved. Did he love Marcelle, I wondered,
or had the vicissitudes of life forced my good
Marcelle of old to put up with his boorish in-
solence? There emanated from this social exe-
cutioner a personality born of relentless cruelty,
of jealousy, and greed, keen-edged by a brain of
lightning shrewdness and activity.

"The air is delicious to-night," I ventured,
breaking the awkward silence between us.

"Ah! You find it so?" he grumbled, slowly



106 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

turning his head and his glittering eyes to
mine.

"Rare and stimulating," I continued, with
courage. "No microbes here, eh?" I laughed.
"No wonder that injections of common sea
water have been discovered to be one of the


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Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 4 of 16)